Board Chairman & CEO
Ambassador Pamela E. Bridgewater (ret.)
Board Chairman and CEO
Ambassador Pamela E. Bridgewater has enjoyed a celebrated career as a United States Foreign Service Officer who has led diplomatic efforts that helped change the course of world events. A native of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Ambassador Bridgewater is a graduate of Walker-Grant High School. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Virginia State University, received a Master of Arts degree in political science from the University of Cincinnati, and completed course work and advanced to candidacy for the PhD degree from the American University School of International Service, Washington, D.C. She holds honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Virginia State University, an honorary Doctor of Public Service from Morgan State University and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Mary Washington.
Ambassador Bridgewater’s overseas tours were in Belgium, The Bahamas, Jamaica, South Africa, Benin and Ghana. She has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs and held other domestic assignments in the Department of State. She was the first African-American woman to serve as Principal Officer (Consul General) in Durban, South Africa. Additionally, she has the distinction of being the longest- serving U.S. diplomat in South Africa during the historic transition from apartheid to a non-racial government. As the political officer assigned to cover Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress in Pretoria, South Africa, a former U.S. Ambassador to South Africa said “Bridgewater established a degree of trust and confidence with Mr. Mandela and the ANC leadership that the U.S. had not previously enjoyed.”
At the height of the most recent civil war in Liberia, Ambassador Bridgewater was named the Department of State’s Special Coordinator for Peace in Liberia and spearheaded the efforts that led to a comprehensive peace agreement and democratic elections. Her extraordinary accomplishments and leadership abilities led President Bill Clinton to name her U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Benin; President George W. Bush to name her U.S. Ambassador to the Republic of Ghana, and President Barack Obama named her as Ambassador to Jamaica.
Before joining the diplomatic corps, Ambassador Bridgewater was a university professor at Morgan State University and Bowie State University in Maryland, and Voorhees College in South Carolina. There is a consistent theme that appears throughout Ambassador Pamela Bridgewater’s professional life, and that is her role as both mediator and mentor. As a professor, she both intellectually challenged and encouraged her students who later distinguished themselves as states’ attorney general, judges, academicians and authors. As a Foreign Service Officer, she shared her vast experience with new officers, providing opportunities that challenged them and enabled them to excel professionally. She continues to encourage and mentor diversity students and others interested in careers in foreign affairs.
A tireless public servant, Ambassador Bridgewater has won numerous commendations for her contributions to international affairs and public policy, including two U.S. Presidential Meritorious Service Awards, the Charles Cobb Award for Trade Promotion, Department of State Superior Honor Awards and the Secretary of State’s Career Achievement Award. She received highest national honors accorded non- citizens from the Republic of Benin and the Republic of Ghana. Ambassador Bridgewater is a sought after speaker and is currently writing her memoirs, and those of her late grandfather Dr. B. H. Hester who pastored the Shiloh Baptist Church, Old Site, in Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Ambassador Bridgewater retired from active duty in the U.S. Diplomatic Service in November 2013 with the rank of Career Ambassador (equivalent to three-star general) after 34 years. She serves on several boards, including Simmons College of Kentucky and the World Council of Kentucky and Southern Indiana, the American Friends of Jamaica, Songhai Center, and engages in charitable undertakings at home and overseas. She was named Head of Delegation for the White House Security Governance Initiative for Kenya in 2014, and works part time for the Department of State and other U.S. government agencies.
In January 2016 Ambassador Bridgewater was named CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Africa Society of the National Summit on Africa, a Washington, D.C. based non-profit organization which educates Americans, especially young people, about the African continent. She is married to the Rev. Dr. A. Russell Awkard, pastor of the New Zion Baptist Church, Louisville, Kentucky.