Hundreds of people gathered for the awards ceremony, which was preceded by a banquet at which international AIDS activist and anti-apartheid leader Leon Howard Sullivan spoke.
Sullivan encouraged the audience to take an active role in eradicating poverty as a way to minimize the spread of the AIDS virus.
He acknowledged award recipients' efforts but stressed the importance of expanding the fight against poverty and AIDS to Africa.
The awards ceremony was held this week in honor of World AIDS Day on Friday.
"By my presence here, I hope you recognize the importance of the work you are doing in North Carolina," Sullivan told the audience, saying he had turned down two other engagements in New York and Germany to speak at the banquet.
Despite the thriving U.S. economy, Sullivan said it is important not to forget the poor because poverty remains a constant problem in the United States.
The ceremony was sponsored in part by Opportunities Industrialization Centers, a group Sullivan founded that trains people in the United States, Africa and Europe to combat poverty worldwide.
A. Dennis McBride, acting director of the N.C. Division of Public Health, stressed the impact poverty has on the spread of AIDS. "Poverty and apathy are the issues," he said. "HIV and AIDS is but a manifestation of those issues."
Sullivan also emphasized the importance of equal opportunities and rights for all. "We need to see the doors across America open that have been closed."