Say it Loud...

Cheryl Brown's picture

I'm Black and I'm Proud

Nassir "NAS" Jones Prestigious Award Honoree at Harvard

Ever since James Brown introduced this epic anthem in 1968, I’ve struggled with this phrase. Don’t get me wrong, the concept is worth embracing. It’s just the word “proud” that gives me pause. But tonight I felt proud. Not in an ostentatious way. I was proud in a humbling 1968 celebratory way. Tonight, in Cambridge, history was made…again. As it was brought to my attention, 1930 Wiley College debate team from Marshall, Texas was filmed in the very same Memorial Hall Sanders Theater at Harvard University. The occasion was no less auspicious as the trailblazers that inspired the movie “The Great Debaters”. Both events showcased African-Americans who transcended adversity to go on to inspire millions. Hence the stage was set for Hutchins Center Honors W.E.B. DU BOIS Medal Ceremony to honor the lives of these amazing trailblazers Muhammad Ali, Marian Wright Edelman, Mellody Hobson, Eric Holder, Charlayne Hunter-Gault, Nasir “NAS” Jones, Carrie Mae Weems, Richard D. Cohen, and Ethelbert J. L. Cooper. The honorees did not disappoint as each received multiple ovations. The program opened with the Kuumba Singers’ acapella rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” followed by a moving prayer. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. gave remarks to set the tone for the program as the Harvard basketball team in a distinguished gentlemen styled processional entered led by Coach Tommy Amaker whose smile exudes a confident warmth that seems to instantly “win friends and influence people”. Former Attorney General Eric Holder wittingly let the Harvard team know that his alma mater Columbia was coming for them and that his “cool” meter had increased 1000% by being on the same stage as Hip Hop icon, “NAS”. Come as they must, but the Harvard players will have the answer when they arrive. Marian Wright Edelman, has been an advocate for disadvantaged Americans for her entire professional life. Her passion still proved contagious as she admonished everyone to awake and rise to the occasion and start a movement to propel America to greatness. She went on to say that “movement rises from the bottom, where there is a need. The ark was built by amateurs. The Titanic was built by professionals. Don’t wait for the government to rescue or restore. The movement starts with you”. Mellody Hobson, a nationally recognized voice on financial literacy and investor education, recollected her rise from humble beginnings. She remembered a childhood that entailed lack of food, lights being cut off, and evictions. Out of this lack grew a strength to persevere and prepare to never be in poverty again. She studied to understand every aspect of money management to ensure not only her financial success but she was determined to pay it forward by empowering others as well. Recipients Richard D. Cohen and Ethelbert J. L. Cooper were both surprised by their awards as their benevolence to the causes of African Americans at Harvard University is too extensive to list here. You would be moved to inspiration by simply googling these gentlemen. Much of the work in terms of endowments, scholarships, and fellowship programs are made possible by the contributions of the two. As Dean Faust graciously hosted and supported all of the honorees, the program closed with words from NAS, a special tribute to Mohammad Ali, prayer and a rousing selection from Kuumba Singers “Ride on King Jesus”. Each recipient received standing ovations for their wisdom in speech, life-long accomplishments, but mostly for their courage to take a stand and make a difference, despite adversity. I’m Black & I’m Proud may not be the proper vernacular but we all understand the gist. Witnessing greatness in any form as it affects history for the positive always makes for gratifying feelings of pleasure or satisfaction over something regarded as highly honorable. Harvard made history. Harvard made me proud. Article written by Cheryl Worrell Brown Harvard Extension School HILR Student/Activist