What I Learned from the NAACP Image Awards

It’s 2018, halfway through January, and we’ve already had some moments that made us give certain people the side-eye. Trump calling other countries “shithole countries”, H&M creating racially insensitive ads, E! coming out with a show about the #MeToo movement, yet they don’t feature the black women who created the hashtag, it’s just too much right now. It’s crazy how we’re in the 21st century, yet we’re still of the mentality of the Jim Crow era. Between everything that’s happening now, and what we’ve dealt with in 2016 and 2017, it’s fair to say that we need spaces, outlets for us, by us, and dedicated to us. We need our own representation and foundations instead of depending on those who never wanted to hear our voices in the begin. 

As Solange suggested in tweets last year after the Grammys was accused of ignorance artist of color, we must build our own institutions, create our own awards show. While some people were kind of hesitant about her tweets and called her a hypocrite, I understood her message. While other award shows are fun and entertaining, we do need to support award shows dedicated to us consistently, and we do need to start building our own legacies. I’ll admit, as a community, we have a habit of looking down at awards shows dedicated to people of color. With that in mind and Solange’s tweets, I decided to make a conscious effort to attend a predominately black award show I was able to go to. Fortunately, I was able to attend one that has so much power within the black community. I attended the NAACP Image Awards. 

Through prayer and a special connection, I was able to attend the NAACP Image Awards. I was excited not only because I got an opportunity to attend another award show, but more so I can share my experience with other black men and women, and of course the kids. The NAACP Image Awards started in 1969, and for 49 years, has celebrated the best of the best within the black community. Whether it’s the arts, service, or education, the NAACP Image Awards was designed to empower and acknowledge those who don’t usually get recognized. Growing up on the South Side of Chicago, it was one of those award shows that you heard about in every barbershop, salon, and someone even at your school (if you attended a predominately black school). I was honored to be apart of something like this, considering that 1. I’ve made so many posts about supporting our own, and 2. My favorite memory from the NAACP Image Awards was Yolanda Adams and Kirk Franklin’s tribute to Whitney Houston in 2012. 

I traveled from Chicago (and got a break from the cold weather) to Pasadena, California where the award ceremony was held. During my two days there, I not only ran into some of my friends, but I also got the chance to make some new ones as well. Leading up to the event, I ran into quite a few blacks people who were also attending the ceremony or who went to the award’s dinner the night before. We shared the same idea and a common goal; We were all there ready to uplift our people and be the change in our community. I’ve heard this before, but it felt different knowing that what we were doing was going to be televised and has been going on for almost 50 years. I’ve mostly heard this from people who were in the community, at the bottom, and working with underserved communities. It was one of the few times where I’ve (personally) heard these spoken by people at the top, the people with money and affluence, people who don’t have to public transportation. 

On the night of the award show, my friend and I decided to be fancy and get an Uber black car (the award show fell on Martin Luther King’s birthday and national holiday, we did it in honor of him, don’t judge us, we’re boughetto) and arrived to the award show with class. Just arriving there, you could feel the positive energy outside and on the red carpet (which we go to walk). You can tell that people were genuinely here to uplift one another and they strived for the betterment of black people. People who didn’t know us, wanted us to join in on group pictures and complimented our outfits. They welcomed us with open arms. I also felt a part of me changing for the better; I’m always myself (anyone who knows me personally knows that) but at the awards, I felt as if I can be more vibrant and truly celebrate my blackness. 

The energy outside became more prominent inside. At most award shows, the guest and the celebrities have two separate entrances, but not at the NAACP Image Awards. We all entered through the same doors. Before the show, we all took more pictures, took our seats and got to know the people around us. There was a comedian that entertained the crowd before the show started, cracking jokes on everyone, but once the show started, it seemed as though everyone had a poker face on; as if they wanted this televised award show to be a hit. Once Anthony Anderson (the host) opened the show with his jokes, he introduced Kerry Washington, Lena Waithe, Laverne Cox, Tracee Ellis Ross, Jurnee Smollett-Bell, and Angela Robinson to the stage as they brought a much-needed political message to the audience and to viewers at home, including the importance of voting. 

As the night went on, it was from a night of black excellence to a night-time cookout. The comedian was getting more and more laughs from his jokes, The AKAs were strolling during intermission (the award show was also on the same day as their Founder’s Day), celebrities socialized all throughout the venue. Everyone was feeling each award acceptance speech that the winners gave. The drinks were everywhere. Everyone truly enjoyed themselves. Of course, everyone lived for Danny Glover, Charlie Wilson, and Ava Duvernay’s speeches, but what they didn’t show on TV, was when Maxine Waters took the mic, announced that her guest was related to a victim of police brutality, and she still plans on impeaching Trump. The audience roared. 

Between the award show and the after party (which was one of the best after parties I’ve attended, shout out to MC Lyte for being the DJ), I have to admit it changed my focus on our community and it made me reconsider how we interact with each other. Words can’t explain how inspiring it was to see people of color enjoy each other’s company and network with each other; something the world says we don’t do often. While there were only two negative incidents at the event, and one person outside yelling “why isn’t there an award for white people like this?!”, this was one of the few times I’ve walked into a room and felt embraced and loved. While this moment is something I’ve always remember, I’ll always remember the lessons I took from it as far as networking and building our community. 

Now, on my way back to Chicago, I ask myself, how can I bring this same energy to Chicago?

How can I bridge the gap between the lower and upper class within the black community? 

What is the true definition of “black excellence”?

Can one truly be woke and bougie?

Everyone who’s preaching about building our own institutions, and protesting white establishments, where were they? Were they too busy to attend? Schedule conflicts?

How can do included afro-latinos into this equation? (By the way, Amara La Negra from Love & Hip-Hop: Miami was there and she was flawless!)

Imagine how strong our community could be if we can together, like those who came together for the NAACP Image Awards. Hopefully, if after reading this article, this conversation will grow, and more actions will take place.

For a full list of winners check out the NAACP official website!