Where in seasons past, the prestigious NAACP Chairman’s Award has gone to one deserving person, this year’s honor is being presented to five individuals and three organizations who, per the NAACP, have “used their distinct platforms to create agents of change.”
The eight honorees, selected by Roslyn M. Brock, chairman of the National Board of Directors of the NAACP, are Justice League NYC, a criminal justice task force founded in 2005 by Harry Belafonte; the U. of Mississippi NAACP College Chapter; U. of Missouri Concerned Student 1950 Collective, a group of students that rallied against racism on the Columbia campus; Brittany “Bree” Newsome, an activist and filmmaker from Charlotte, N.C., who scaled the flagpole on the Statehouse grounds and took down the Confederate flag; “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, a social justice advocate who volunteers for such organizations as the Black AIDS Institute and the United Negro College Fund; the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant, the Baltimore-based preacher who organized the Stop the Violence Start the Love campaign; the Rev. Otis Moss III, senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago; and the Rev. Howard-John Wesley, a biblical scholar and pastor of the historic Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Va.
“It’s a special opportunity for the organization to highlight a group of young people who have really made a difference in their community,” says Brock of the honorees, who will be feted Feb. 5 at the 47th annual NAACP Image Awards. “When we speak about everything that has happened in 2015 on college campuses and in urban centers, the policing and murders of young black men, we saw the Confederate flag come down — there’s an increased level of on-campus activism and people stepping into the public arena and demanding change around diversity and inclusion. Generally there is only one (Chairman’s) award, but I thought this would be a very unique opportunity to highlight the efforts of these leaders who are all under the age of 50 who have made a very tangible and significant change in the social justice landscape in our community.”
Past recipients of the award, which symbolizes the trademark NAACP motto, “Courage Will Not Skip this Generation,” have included Attorney Gen. of the United States Eric H. Holder Jr., Aretha Franklin, Bono and (then-Sen.) Barack Obama.
“All of these leaders exemplify the three core tenets (of the NAACP): that we must strengthen community, that we must mobilize and build a coalition and that we must continue to embrace our faith,” Brock says. “At the NAACP we have game changers that are part of our strategic plan, and that includes youth engagement. We want to continue to encourage others to make a difference in their communities and do it in a very constructive and positive away.”