Since October 1972, Rev. A. Russell Awkard has been the Pastor of New Zion Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He came to the church from a four-year pastorate in Fredericksburg, VA. New Zion had suffered a devastating fire before his arrival; he led the church in building a new edifice in 1973-1974 and expanding the facility in 1985- 1986. Numerous outreach projects have been developed—at home and abroad, including television, jail and prison ministries.
Under his leadership, New Zion sponsored a 122-bed nursing home (1983-2011), 72,000 sq. ft. community center (2002-2011), and launched a free boarding school for middle school boys in 2006. Pastor Awkard is a former President of the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention (1991-1994) and Moderator of the Central District Association (1989-1995). From 2004 to 2009, he served as Moderator of the General Association of Baptists in Kentucky.
Rev. Awkard is also President of Rodgers-Awkard & Lyons Funeral Home. He is married to the Honorable Pamela E. Bridgewater Awkard, retired United States Ambassador to Benin, Ghana and Jamaica; the father of his daughters, Alicia and Alma; stepson, Clarence Benboe (Venita); and four grandchildren.
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.
Ambassador Bridgewater’s overseas tours include Belgium, The Bahamas, Benin, Jamaica, South Africa, and Ghana. She has served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, and was the first African-American woman to serve as Principal Officer (Consul General) in Durban, South Africa. 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, 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 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 Benin; President George W. Bush to name her U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, and President 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 judges, academicians and authors and diplomats.
A tireless public servant, Ambassador Bridgewater has won numerous commendations. She is the recipient of honorary degrees from Virginia State University, The University of Cincinnati (Doctor of Laws), Morgan State University (Doctor of Public Service) and the University of Mary Washington (Doctor of Humane Letters). She has received two U.S. Presidential Meritorious Service Awards, the Charles Cobb Award for Trade Promotion, and State Department Superior Honor Awards. Ambassador Bridgewater retired from active duty after thirty-four years and now heads the White House Kenya Security Governance Initiative. She is currently writing her memoirs. Ambassador Bridgewater is married to the Rev. A. Russell Awkard of Louisville, Kentucky.