When Xernona Clayton came up with the idea for the Trumpet Awards 18 years ago, she had every intention of making it an annual event.
But it wasn't until the first event was a success that Ted Turner of Turner Broadcasting, where Clayton worked at the time, asked if she wanted to do it again next year.
"I already had my logo ready!" Clayton said.
Saturday, the 18th Annual Trumpet Awards will again honor a diverse group of African Americans for their accomplishments and contributions. This year, the invitation-only, star-studded event will be held in the John. A. Williams Theater at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center. The gala will feature jazz saxophonist, Kirk Whalum, who will perform "Running Away" from his forthcoming album, "The Gospel According to Jazz Chapter III." Coincidentally, the song is based on a work by this year's Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, soul singer Frankie Beverly.
Also included among the 11 honorees are locals Steve Harvey and the Rev. and Mrs. Joseph E. Lowery. In a separate ceremony Friday, Eugene Patterson, former editor of the Atlanta Constitution and Rev. Samuel "Billy" Kyles, who invited Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis to help with the city's sanitation strike, will be inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame along with six others committed to justice and equality.
"Growing up, I used to watch the Trumpet Awards on television. I would dream that one day I would be there," said Farrah Gray, 25, an honoree whose many achievements include being one of the youngest people to have an office on Wall Street. Gray launched the Farrah Gray Foundation which teaches leadership skills to children considered least likely to succeed.
"Mrs. Clayton has really developed a monumental, unmatched platform that profiles the brightest and best in the African American community," said the Las Vegas-based Gray.
Though the bar for honorees is high, each year it is a challenge to trim the list, Clayton said. "They must not just be successful in their own careers, they must be doing something for someone else with their fame and fortune," she said. Her mission is much the same as it was when she first began: to change negative attitudes about African Americans by highlighting their achievements.
"I worked very closely with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr...and he challenged us to always do whatever you can to bring about a greater level of understanding," she said. "I am so excited by the change that has come over people as a result of our program."
Although there has been terrific progress, Lowery said, there is still work to be done. Which is why at 88, he still finds himself in the trenches.
"My greatest accomplishment is staying alive," Lowery said. "I am very serious about that. Most of my colleagues have gone. I guess that is why I try to stay as active as I can, doing the things I feel called to do because I know the good Lord didn’t leave me here because I was so brilliant or because I was so good. He must have wanted me to achieve some of the goals we set for ourselves when we started...and I do the best I can."
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