By Justin Sink - 08/05/14 11:36 PM EDT
Tuesday evening’s formal White House dinner with more than 40 African heads of state embodied the “deeply personal” connection between the U.S. and Africa, President Obama told the gathering of political officials and celebrities on the South Lawn.
“Tonight we are making history, and it’s an honor to have all of you here. I stand before you as the president of the United States, a proud American. I also stand before you as the son of a man from Africa,” Obama said. “The blood of Africa runs through our family, so for us, the bonds between our countries, our continents are deeply personal.”
“Never before have we hosted a dinner at the White House like this, with so many presidents,” Obama said. “So we are grateful to all the leaders who are in attendance. We are grateful to the spouses. I think the men will agree that the woman outshine us tonight, in the beautiful colors of Africa.”
The president avoided discussion of some of the tough public health and economic issues that have dominated this week’s conference, but did make illusions to Africa’s troubled past. He mentioned his trip last year to the continent, where he and his daughters saw relics of the slave trade.
But Obama asked the convened leaders to pledge to “work together” for a “new Africa.”
“I propose a toast to the new Africa,” he said. “The Africa that is rising and so full of promise. To our shared task to keep on working for the peace and prosperity and justice that all our people seek, that all our people so richly deserve.”
Obama spoke to some 400 guests, which included top administration officials and more than two dozen members of Congress. Grammy Award winning artist Lionel Richie performed for the guests, who enjoyed dry-aged beef served with and crispy plantains, spiced tomato soup and cappuccino fudge cake.
Notable celebrities in attendance included actor Robert De Niro, “12 Years a Slave” actor Chiwetel Ejiofor and “Orange is the New Black’s” Uzo Aduba.
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), among the lawmakers in attendance, marveled at “one of most exciting things I’ve ever seen.”
“To think that the son of an African man is hosting this event in a house built by African slaves,” Rangel said.