Y’all…I took a selfie with John Legend!
Ok, so John Legend probably doesn’t even know that this happened, but nevertheless…
The 2019 Freedom Awards
Since 1991, the Freedom Award has honored distinguished individuals who have made great global and national impact. These men and women are lauded for their work in the struggle for civil and human rights. The Freedom Award is the museum’s signature event that honors outstanding individuals for their significant contributions to civil and human rights. This year, I had the honor of serving as Media for the Red Carpet event, which meant that I got to photograph and interview some of the honorees and attendees.
President Terri Lee Freeman
The first person I was able to interview was the President of the National Civil Rights Museum, Mrs. Terri Lee Freeman. Madame President (I like the sound of that!) has been in charge of steering the direction of the museum since 2014. When asked why she felt that it was important to honor those who have…fought for freedom and causes… to showcase (the individuals selected for this award), she responded that “I think that it’s really important for us to pay tribute and honor people who are doing work in the realm of civil and human rights, helping people, just as it is to honor people for their movie making and their television shows or their record making. This is important stuff. And they are changing people’s lives. And I also think that it’s really important for our icons, like Gloria Steinem, that we’re able to say thank you while she can hear us.
The 2019 ceremony paid homage to The Green Book. If you’re not familiar with it, The Green Book is fully known as the Negro Motorist Green Book and it was first published in 1936 as a way to make continental travel safer for African Americans. I asked her if she thought that this was something that should be carried on and updated for the 21st Century. “Yes, but I would say in a different way…that it’s not just about lodging and travel, that it’s about businesses, Black businesses. It’s about Black services and vendors…and I know that there has been an effort to do just that. To create a tool, that was probably digital, not in book form, that would do just that. So I absolutely think it’s a resource that could be helpful, frankly not just for Black folks, but for anybody who’s interested in supporting Black business.”
John Legend, Hafsat Abiola, and Gloria Steinem were the honorees for this year’s ceremony. Learning of the work that they have done in their lives simply astounded me.
Honoring Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem has dedicated over 50 years of her life to fighting for equality across racial, gender, and socio-economic lines. Prior to the ceremony, she had just returned stateside from fighting for equality in India.
I need to get my life together…
When asked why she felt that it was important to be receiving her award in Memphis, Ms. Steinem responded “I wouldn’t be any place on earth other than Memphis getting this award! It couldn’t mean more to me because the Civil Rights movement was the inspiration for so many other movements and, in a way, we’re all one movement. We’re all trying to say ‘Wait a minute. We’re all unique individuals and human beings.” And all these labels of gender and race…are made up. They’re actually very new in human history. We made them up. We can un-make them up!”
I did have the chance to interview Ms. Steinem. I asked her at one point did she know that this work was what she was meant to do.
She started her response by flattering me with the assumption that I’m younger than I look. “I came of age in the 1950s. The 1950s were pretty awful. Because it was after WWII and this country was trying to put women back in their place in the kitchen. And Black men who’d been in the Army and who’d gotten “uppity” back in (to their place) and you know, it just really wasn’t good times. So it took me until my late 30s to understand that movements can really flourish and change society.”
John Legend will certainly be a legend
Like most of his adoring fangirls, I appreciate John for his looks and talent. I can’t lie…I got the selfie because I was thisclose to him but just smiled and blushed as he talked to the cameras next to me. Chrissy, you’re a lucky lady! But in listening to him and learning about his activism, I can’t help but to admire him and appreciate the work that he’s doing to make this world a better place. In a previous interview with John Harwood of CNBC, he was asked why he would be a celebrity involved in the issues that he stands for and he simply stated: “I can’t help it. Honestly, it’s probably not good for business. It’s probably alienating some people and I understand that, but I think it’s worth the risk for me. Because I care enough about these issues that I cannot just be silent…me living in my truth…is caring about these issues and speaking out about them when I care. It would be too hard for me to be silent about it…It’s not in my constitution.”
in 2014, following his work for educational equity with the Show Me Campaign, he founded #FreeAmerica. He is at the forefront of fighting for the rights, humane treatment, and reintegration of inmates and former inmates of the correctional system. Earlier this year, he launched a Docuseries called Can’t Just Preach, highlighting the activism work by Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, as well as Jaclyn Corin, Desmond Meade, Isa Noyola, and Efrén C. Olivares. Each series will also serve as a fundraiser for the respective organization. Read more about them here.
Discovering Hafsat Abiola
Before the awards show, I had no idea who Hafsat Abiola was. This was my mistake. She is easily my newest hero. She is the founder of KIND (Kudirat Initiative for Democracy). Hearing her story certainly stirred me up. Hafsat is a Nigerian human rights, civil rights and democracy activist. She is the daughter of Nigerians who fought for human rights, women’s rights, and democracy in Nigeria.
Her mother, Kudirat Abiola, was assassinated for her work and resolve to end the militarization of the government in 1996.
What astounds me the most about Hafsat is that in the wake of political unrest and threats against her life, she rose up and refused to let her mother’s death be in vain. She spoke to the audience about how her asylum status prevents her from returning directly to Nigeria to do the work that needs to be done. But she found a way. Because “You have to be present. You have to be on the ground (to do the work.)”
She is the living embodiment of not letting the enemy stifle your message, mission, or testimony. I don’t know if I could possibly admire her more.
The Awards Show
In addition to the honorees, the Awards Show which was hosted by Lamman Rucker (yes, younger Pastor Greenleaf!) introduced us to some incredible performers. Memphis’ own, Lil Buck, gave an incredibly moving performance to a rendition of Precious Lord; Frédéric Yonnet, Garry Goin, and Ed Mabry also all graced us with their phenomenal artistic talents.
After the show, each guest received a reprinted copy of the Green Book and were treated to a performance by John Legend that included his hit Glory.
It was an incredible evening and I was honored to be a part of it.