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Caroline Wanga gave a heartfelt speech after receiving the National Action Network 2024 Keepers of the Dream Cultural Award. The CEO and president of Essence Ventures was among other “cultural, business, and health leaders who use their platform to advance Dr. King’s dream,” and who were recognized by the organization. 

She thanked Martin Luther King III as she accepted the award. Despite her bold and often colorful presentation in clothing, hairstyles and headgear, Wanga’s words touched on visibility, or rather a lack thereof. In the video posted on her Instagram profile, she speaks specifically to her own challenges with being unseen as a teenage mom. Wanga disclosed to gala attendees that she once negotiated playing small so as to not be seen. 

“I stand grateful for even being on your radar,” Wanga said. “Because I don’t think you understand fully the value of you seeing somebody.”

She went on to say, “I am a Black girl that had a child at the age of 17 and began 18 years of making her small and considered each day successful if I wasn’t seen by anybody. So for you to see me is trauma repair.”

Wanga’s remarks were met with a round of applause as she shared the vulnerable moment on a topic that many Black women can relate to—in their households, relationships, workplaces and the world. Wanga said her accolade was not solely for herself but also another “Caroline” out there.

“I need us to understand how important it is to see others because it may be the first time they’ve been seen,” Wanga said. “And until someone tells them they’ve been seen they don’t know what to do when they’ve been seen,”

Wanga shifted the focus from being seen personally to being seen as a community by showing up in the world to make a difference for themselves and others. 

“You picked up a baton that was moved ahead by someone before you,” said Wanga. 

“You will not be successful if that baton is in the same place when you leave.”

Wanga implored the audience to do better. 

National Action Network is a civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991 using the exemplary spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King as it’s model to fight for “justice, decency and equal opportunities for all people regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, citizenship, criminal record, economic status, gender, gender expression, or sexuality,” the NAN website states. 

Among those being honored for the National Action Network 2024 Keepers of the Dream Cultural Award are Whoopi Goldberg; Alexis McGill Johnson, President & CEO, Planned Parenthood Action Fund; Michelle Gadsden-Williams, Managing Director & Global Head of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, BlackRock; Dr. Phillip Ozuah, President & CEO, Montefiore Einstein. 

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