|Vol. 10 No. 20
OCTOBER 1, 2015
On the Whitney Young Award
I was watching TV tonight and I watched the movie Claudine starring Diahann Carroll and James Earl Jones, for which Diahann Carroll was
nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress. It was produced in 1974 and included a soundtrack by Gladys Knight. I must admit that I
had tears during this movie because of its subject matter and the acting was oh, so good. It was about a single mother with six children and
the man who fell in love with her and dealing with all of the issues and feelings that went along with that. It was great to watch a movie about
giving people instead of superheroes and self-absorbed people.
It tells you what kind of a society that we live in and the perceptions of African American women that Diahann Carroll didn’t win the Academy
Award and instead Halle Berry was the first African American actress to win the Best Actress Oscar for her role in Monster’s Ball 27 years
later, in a role that wasn’t flattering to African American women. I do love Halle Berry. Don’t get me wrong. But Claudine was a movie that
uplifted the community and led it forward. Monster’s Ball did not. Monster’s Ball did not move me the way that Claudine did. Claudine is as
relevant now as it was in 1974. Monster’s Ball, in my humble opinion, was never relevant. I’m just saying …
I kind of went backwards in the preparation of my acceptance speech for the Urban League’s Whitney Young Jr. Award. It was an awesome
recognition. Usually when I give a speech, I won’t write it down. I will just sort things through and then let the spirit run with me. I want to
connect with the people in the room and not stand there reading a script. But I want to write it down now and publish it. There were some
things that I wanted to say, but forgot or I ran out of time and cut it short. So the following is a close approximation of what was said.
“It’s nice to come home to the Urban League and receive this award. Thank you Dr. Anthony. I have been watching what you have been
putting in place at the Urban League and I look forward to seeing the great things that the Urban League will be doing in the future.
On some levels, I feel that I do not deserve this award. I have done nothing … But we have accomplished a lot. Even when I am out in the
community with The Capital City Hues, when it seems like I am at every community event, I still don’t do it alone. I would like the partners of
The Capital City Hues to stand up and be recognized. These social entrepreneurs invested in a dream and helped it become a reality. I am
very grateful for what they have done.
I would also like to recognize my son Andrew. He wrote a column called China Dispatch for The Hues during the four years that he lived in
China. Andrew is a much more gifted writer than I and I hope that he will be able to find a situation where he will be able to develop his God-
None of us springs out of the foam of the sea fully developed like a Greek god. We become who we are through the people around us who
mentor us and help us become who we are. And so, I must give thanks to the late … and great Betty Franklin-Hammonds who was the CEO at
the Urban League for eight years while I worked here. Betty used to say, “Gramling” — Betty always called her friends by their last name —
“Gramling, you have more talent than you know what to do with.” And then Betty and the Urban League pulled that talent right out of me and
allowed me to develop that talent in service to the community. I am very grateful for what Betty did for me.
Those were great times back then. It was like being in the land flowing with milk and honey. There was Rev. James C. Wright and Gene
Parks. There was Reverend Charles Garel and Orlando Bell and Joseph Thomas and Joe Hill and Jim and Joan Jones, so many people who
were committed to civil rights. Those were heady times when I thought we would gain ground. Those were exciting times.
But there have also been times when I felt as if I was wondering lost in the desert, sometimes a dessert of my own making. There was a time
last fall when I was wandering in that desert. I hadn’t had a vacation in almost nine years and I was toast, feeling totally burned out.
There was an event being held in the Darbo-Worthington neighborhood at the Salvation Army. Today Not Tomorrow, Club TNT, was holding a
community dialogue with members of the Madison Police Department. I was feeling comfortable at home and didn’t want to go out on a chilly
dark night where I had already put in a full days work. But I went.
When the program had been going on for a while, Sina Davis, a great community organizer in the Allied Drive neighborhood, left the gym and I
followed her out because I wanted to get some comments from her for the article that I would write. And a young brother followed me out of
the room. And he told me how thankful he was for The Hues, that he enjoyed the newspaper and got a lot out of it.
Hearing his words was like getting a ladle of water when I was wandering in the desert. And I realized that I had been giving him ladles of
water in his own desert where he may not have been surrounded by role models, that The Hues gave him stories about African American men
who were succeeding in spite of the obstacles that may have been placed in their way. We had sustained each other. [Dionte Prewitt came up
to me afterwards to talk. He was the young man I had been talking about.]
In closing, I would like to paraphrase from the coach’s speech in the film On Any Given Sunday to a team that has been divided.
Either we heal as a community and work together on the challenges and issues that this community faces or we will die as individuals.
Once again, I thank the Urban League for this award. I love you all.