By Natasha Simone Ferguson
The red carpet lit up with a star-studded lineup of Hollywood celebs and other distinguished guests at the recent 44th Annual NAACP Image Awards. Held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, the awards ceremony honored achievements of people of color in entertainment, literature and promoting social justice.
Host Steve Harvey noted the significance of this year’s Image Awards being held on the first day of Black History month, as well as being a historic day marking the 105th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Actress Kerry Washington won a trio of awards, most notably the President’s Award for her humanitarian efforts presented to her by NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous along with the elegant and graceful Diahann Carroll. Washington was appointed to serve on President Barack Obama’s President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. She also won for Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for “Scandal” and Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for “Django Unchained”.
LL Cool J won Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series for his role on CBS’ NCIS: Los Angeles and humbly accepted the award dedicating it to the late Michael Clark Duncan who was a nominee in the same category.
Lance Gross received Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for Tyler Perry’s “House of Payne” and addressed the media backstage, saying that he would like to get more rugged and raw action roles in the future.
Onlookers held a gleam of pride in their eyes and gave a long heartfelt standing ovation as they welcomed U.S. Navy Vice Admiral Michelle Howard on stage to receive the prestigious Chairman’s Award, presented by NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock and Image Awards Announcer Dennis Haysbert. Vice Admiral Howard was choked up and through teary eyes gave a memorable speech. She candidly shared the challenges she faced as being the first African American woman to command a U.S. Navy ship and the first African American woman promoted to three-star rank in the U.S. Armed Forces. She is also actively involved in humanitarian efforts through the Habitat for Humanity organization. Vice Admiral Howard ended her acceptance speech with a quote from freedom fighter Harriet Tubman.
“Harriet Tubman said ‘every great dream begins with a dreamer. You have within you the strength, the patience and passion to reach for the stars,’ and for all of you who have written, composed, directed, produced or acted, you let us believe that we could reach the stars…”
Grammy Award winning vocalist Gladys Knight sang a soul-stirring performance of ‘The Way We Were’ during the memoriam portion of the broadcast, which paid tribute to icons who have recently passed away including: Michael Clark Duncan, Whitney Houston, Donna Summers, Al Freeman Jr., Don Cornelius, Chris Lighty and many more distinguished notables.
The most memorable moment of the evening was when two living legends graced the stage. Sidney Poitier, acclaimed multi award-winning actor, filmmaker, diplomat and first Black to win an Academy Award in 1963 for 'Best Actor' — also known as an outstanding orator — captivated the audience when he presented Harry Belafonte with the Spingarn Award honoring outstanding achievement by an African American. At 85-years old, singer, songwriter, actor and social activist Belafonte is still strikingly debonair, and his handsomely statuesque appearance commands attention by all. The auditorium was deafly silent hanging on every eloquently spoken word of Belfonte’s enlightening speech about critical social issues facing people of color today.
“The group most devastated by America’s obsession with the gun is African-Americans. Although making comparisons can be dangerous, there are times when they must be noted. America has the largest prison population in the world. Of the over two million men, women and children who make up the incarcerated, the overwhelming majority is Black. They are the most unemployed, the most caught in the unjust systems of justice, and in the gun game, we are the most hunted. The river of blood that washes the streets of your nation flows mostly from the bodies of our Black children. Yet as the great debate emerges on the question of the gun, White America discusses the constitutional issue of ownership, while no one speaks of the consequences of our racial carnage. The question is ‘where is the raised voice of Black America? Why are we mute? Where are our leaders, our legislators? Where is the Church?”
"Django Unchained" star and Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx closed out the show singing a powerful rendition of Gospel recording artist Fred Hammond's "No Weapon" while accepting his award for “Entertainer of the Year.”
Founded in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is the oldest and largest civil rights organizations in the United States.