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Wednesday, March 1, 2023


Honorees Include Award Winning Journalists, Development Experts, and Educators with Ties to CNN, Harvard University, NPR and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

(Washington, D.C. | Wednesday, March 1, 2023) – The Peace Corps will honor five returned Peace Corps volunteers (RPCVs) and a leading public servant who has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to civic engagement, friendship, and world peace at the 2023 Franklin H. Williams Awards ceremony on Wednesday, March 1, 2023, at the Planet Word Museum in Washington, D.C.

The Franklin H. Williams Awards were established in 1999 to honor the legacy of Williams’ many contributions to the U.S. Peace Corps and the honor recognizes the contributions of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs), Returned Peace Corps Response Volunteers (RPCRVs), and one non-RPCV of color whose work exemplifies the advancement of world peace and friendship. The awards also spotlight the achievements of Americans from diverse backgrounds that work diligently to advance the Peace Corps’ Third Goal: To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

The Awards honor the legacy of former Peace Corps regional director for Africa and U.S. ambassador to Ghana, Franklin H. Williams. Ambassador Williams was the first Black person named U.S. representative to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, the first Black person ever to serve as an ambassador to an African country, and Williams served as a trusted advisor to the first Peace Corps director, Sargent Shriver, in advancing the agency’s mission across the globe.

"Franklin H. Williams Award honorees demonstrate what is possible when bold leadership is combined with optimism, vision and heart,” said Peace Corps Director Carol Spahn. “The Peace Corps is honored to recognize these 2023 Williams Awards recipients – they challenge us all to see what is possible when the call for social justice leads to action."

The ceremony hosted by 2010 Franklin H. Williams Award Recipient Byron L. Williams – a United States Department of Agriculture Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) training specialist and RPCV who served in Lesotho (2003-2005) and Ukraine (2011-2013) – will exemplify the work of leaders that have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to civic engagement, service, diversity, inclusion, and world peace.

The Peace Corps’ 2023 Franklin H. Williams Awards honorees are:
Charlayne Hunter Gault, Award-Winning Journalist (Keynote Speaker and Director’s Award Winner)
Charlayne Hunter Gault is an award-winning journalist with more than 50 years in the industry. She is the author of four books including, In My Place, a memoir of the Civil Rights Movement, fashioned around her experience as the first black woman to attend the University of Georgia in 1961. In 2005, Hunter Gault returned to NPR as a special correspondent after six years as CNN's Johannesburg bureau chief and correspondent. She joined CNN in April 1999 from National Public Radio, where she worked as the network's chief correspondent in Africa and was awarded a Peabody in 1998 for her coverage of the continent. Hunter-Gault worked for 20 years with PBS NewsHour alternately as a substitute anchor national, and international correspondent. She has now returned to the NewsHour as a special correspondent, doing an unprecedented special series called Race Matters. Hunter-Gault has also won two Emmy Awards and two Peabody Awards the first for her work on Apartheid's People a NewsHour series about South African life during apartheid, the second for her work in Africa for NPR.

Nicole Banister of Los Angeles, California, Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa (2013 – 2016) (Emerging Leader)
Nicole Banister is an internationally recognized television show host, presenter and emcee. Splitting her time between Los Angeles, California, and Cape Town, South Africa, she is the host of NIKKI BANZ LIVE and regularly appears in series, commercials, panels and podcasts. Nicole’s newest show, Start It Up, follows student entrepreneurs from 40 different countries as they pitch social impact business ideas to a distinguished panel of judges in the hopes of winning a $40,000 cash prize. Released on YouTube in June 2022, the series has five million views across the internet with filming for season two to begin in April 2023. Nicole is also a United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Fellow (2017) and a StartingBloc Social Innovation Fellow (2018).

Lavar Thomas of Washington, DC, Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda (2014 – 2016) (Emerging Leader)
Lavar Thomas is an Environmental Justice Coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. He is also the co-founder of Leaders of the Free World, a non-profit organization that provides international leadership development to young Black men. Mr. Thomas is a Duke University Ralph Bunche Scholar, TEDx speaker, and a teaching faculty member with the Global Citizenship Alliance in Salzburg, Austria. In addition, he was recently selected to participate in the Atlantic Dialogues Emerging Leaders Program (ADEL) from a pool of more than 1,600 applicants in Marrakech, Morocco.

Judith Oki of Salt Lake City, Utah, Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia (1971-1973)
Judith Oki provides organizational development services to government and non-government organizations in leadership and management, program development, community engagement, and strategic planning. Judith started this journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer teacher in Liberia in the mid-70s. Over the next several years, she worked for Peace Corps twice, providing program development, management and executive leadership in Swaziland, Washington, D.C., South Africa and Namibia. Opening the Peace Corps South Africa program was a career highlight, especially as Judith had lived and worked in several southern African countries during the anti-apartheid struggle.

Terrell J. Starr of Brooklyn, New York, Peace Corps volunteer in Georgia (2003 – 2005)
Each week Terrell Starr gives his take on world affairs with the help of expert guests indigenous to the regions being discussed on his podcast Black Diplomats, which amplifies the voices of Black and other minority experts on foreign policy. Starr was in Kyiv when the Russian invasion of Ukraine began in 2022 and his live, on-the-ground video stories for television networks such as CNN, MSNBC, and Al Jazeera introduced his unique style of reporting to millions of people around the globe. His sixteen years in journalism include stints as FUSION’s national political correspondent in 2016 and as The Root’s national political correspondent from 2017 to 2021. Starr lived in Ukraine as a Fulbright fellow and a freelance journalist from 2009 to 2010, during which he produced a photojournalism project on the lives of Black Ukrainians.

Rob Watson Jr. of Poughkeepsie, New York, Peace Corps volunteer in Paraguay (2010 – 2013)
Rob Watson Jr. is the Director for Partnerships and Community Impact at the EdRedesign Lab and Secondary Lecturer on Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. His work has focused on themes of civic engagement, community development, and educational equity in the U.S., Latin America and Africa. Upon the completion of his Peace Corps service in Paraguay, he spent an additional four and a half years living and working in Paraguay where he went on to co-found five civil society organizations, including, Teach for Paraguay (member of the global Teach For All Network) and the Paraguayan Government's first national youth service program, Arovia Paraguay. More recently, he partnered with the Mayor, Superintendent of Schools and community leaders from his hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York to co-found the Poughkeepsie Children's Cabinet, a collective impact organization advancing cradle-to-career solutions for children, youth and families. Mr. Watson is also a co-founder of Lead for Poughkeepsie, a new AmeriCorps program affiliated with Lead for America that aims to attract and retain homegrown talent to pursue social impact careers in his hometown and the Mid-Hudson Valley region of New York State. He is a former World Economic Forum Global Shaper and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Millennium Scholar.

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The Peace Corps is an international service network of volunteers, community members, host country partners and staff who are driven by the agency’s mission of world peace and friendship. At the invitation of governments around the world, Peace Corps volunteers work alongside community members on locally-prioritized projects in the areas of education, health, environment, agriculture, community economic development and youth development. Through service, members of the Peace Corps network develop transferable skills and hone intercultural competencies that position them to be the next generation of global leaders. Since President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, more than 240,000 Americans have served in 143 countries worldwide. For more information, visit and follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Troy Blackwell
Peace Corps Director of Press Relations and Spokesperson
[email protected]