On Monday evening, Harlem’s historic Apollo Theatre was filled with wisdom, the gospel, celebration and honor as the president and founder of NAN, Reverend Al Sharpton, celebrated his 65th birthday and 50 years of activism. With a special “Happy Birthday” song, sung by audience members, Sharpton stood alongside Korey Wise as he blew out his candles to kick off the event. The 10th annual Triumph Awards honors those who have paved the way and opened doors in the world of entertainment, business, news, justice, and activism. Open to the public for free, doors wouldn’t open until 6:30, but the community would be wrapped around the building hours before, dressed in their Sunday best.
“Just being Black is heroic,” said Van Jones, an honoree and recipient for the 2019 National Action Network Triumph Awards.
Actress and singer Naturi Naughton was awarded the “Entertainer’s Award” for her exceptional performance as Tasha in Starz Network’s #1 hit drama series Power. After killing off LaKeisha (LaLa Anthony) during the eighth episode of the final season, Naughton started her speech with: “I did what I had to do!” Re-adjusting the microphones to give a powerful speech, no pun intended, Naughton stood as a testament to her fans. “We have power in our voice. We have to remember there is power in our gifts. There is power in our art. There is power in our vote. There is power in our churches. There is power in our schools. There is power in our community,” the actreess said during her motivating acceptance speech.
With a list of notable accolades under her belt, Naughton has been recognized as the 2017 and 2018 NAACP Image Award winner for “Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series,” as well as being awarded by the Women in Entertainment Executive Network (WEEN), Black Women in Film Summit, and the National Urban League of New York for her impressive body of work in television and film.
“I stand here as a testament today, saying know your power people, don’t let nobody take it away from you. You are worthy. You are talented. You are beautiful. You are gifted. So many times I was told I was too dark. I wasn’t pretty enough. I was too short. I wasn’t this. There will be many people that [will] tell you that. But I am here today receiving the Entertainer’s Award. I want to be a representation that is a reflection of you. We are bringing it real and raw. I am so proud to be a Black woman in Hollywood.”
Audience members were taken to church more than once with the daring dynamics and compelling chords of Grace Baptist Church choir of Mount Vernon, New York, to Greater Allen Ame Cathedral of Queens, New York, and Grammy Award winner Le’Andria Johnson.
Dominique Morisseau, playwright and director of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical, Ain’t Too Proud -- The Life and Times of the Temptations, was crowned as the “Triumphant Woman of the Year.” Serenading the audience with renditions of “Get Ready” and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” a special performance by her cast gave just a taste of the legendary Detroit-bred group. Accepting her award with grace and poise, Morisseau spoke deep into the souls of her Black and Brown brothers and sisters.
“When I wrote Ain’t Too Proud -- The Life and Times of the Temptations from my beloved and homegrown Temptations, which is a high honor for a Detroit girl, men would ask me how I understood them and their perspective so well? I tell them that it because I’ve been reading stories about Black men, by Black men all of my life, from James Baldwin to Malcolm X to Richard Wright to Ralph Ellison. I understood Black men because I listened to them speak about themselves in their own words, from their own perspective. I encourage everyone to do the same for Black women.”
Morisseau continued basking in the importance of art, more importantly, Black art. “The art is our battle cry. That we are not exclusively strong and formidable but we are also fragile and worthy of compassion. I will forever make it my charge to assure that we as women, men, and all gender identities are valued,” she continued.
Hosted by Spectrum News anchor Cheryl Willis, other nominees included Patrisse Cullors and Alicia Garza, co-founders of Black Lives Matter; news commentator and author Van Jones; CEO of IVY Inc. & Social Responsibility/BEYGOOD Ivy McGregor; and NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas.