“Through the Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts, the CBCF and the CBC Spouses pay homage to those whose creative bodies of work convey the rich and diverse African-American experience. CBCF is proud to support the next generation of great artists with scholarships to pursue their education and hone their crafts, ” said A. Shuanise Washington, the president and CEO of the CBCF.
On Wednesday September 24th, 2014, the official start date of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, the Congressional Black Caucus Spouses hosted an awards ceremony honoring three standout icons in the fine arts: Actress Phylicia Rashad, Singer-songwriter Bill Withers and Author Dr. Alvin Poussaint . Now in its 18th year, the Celebration of Leadership in the Fine Arts raises scholarship funds for students pursuing visual and performing arts. This year’s event was held at the Newseum in Washington, DC and opened with a cocktail reception featuring the talented international jazz keyboardist Marcus Johnson and the Urban Jam Band.
Angela Rye, Principal and CEO of Impact Strategies, was the evening’s emcee. The ceremony opened with a welcome by Vice President Joe Biden, who surprised attendees with his appearance and ended his remarks with a few brief words about the value of employment: “A job is about more than having a paycheck. It’s about dignity,” which received an ovation.
There was various entertainment throughout the evening, including solo string and vocal performances.
Dr. Poussaint, a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School was the first to receive his award. During his remarks, he shared that early in his career he was asked for advice on how to calm racial tensions during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the Watts riot. During this time period, the mid-1960s, he had no Black patients, but longed to address the mental and emotional impact of racism on Blacks. “I finally got one Black patient and he was thinking he had been assigned to me as a means of segregation, but I told him, ‘No don’t say anything about it because I need a Black patient.’”
Actress Phylicia Rashad, who was next to receive her award, spoke about growing up in a time when American schools were segregated and underscored the need to encourage the arts in public education now. “How is it possible that during the time of legal segregation there were instruments that students could take home and practice with…and today there are not even music programs in the schools?” She went on to say that “When I hear about the restoration of arts education in our public schools programs, I will know that it is because of efforts of people like you.”
Singer-songwriter Bill Withers, who received his award last, opened with “My mother’s father was born in 1854 — that means that despite my vibrant, youthful appearance, I am the grandson of a slave.” He spoke about his family and how they used education to advance their professional mobility. In his closing remarks he inspired with words of wisdom regarding the journey towards success: “On the way to wonderful, you’re going have to pass through alright.” Right before accepting his award, he reached for a bit of humor and said “I won’t pretend to be profound. I’ll just sit down.” The crowd loved it!
Dr. Maya Rockeymoore-Cummings, event, chair, gave closing remarks.“ The CBC Spouses are honored to recognize the outstanding artistic and literary contributions of this year’s honorees and are especially pleased that proceeds from this event will go toward providing scholarships for young emerging talent. We must support a new generation on their journey so that we can uphold the long legacy of African-American artistic excellence.”
There was an additional reception following the event that included dinner and a dessert bar, and of course, the celestial sounds of Marcus Johnson and the Urban Jam Band.