Actor Omari Hardwick hosted an “An Evening of Empowerment” at Arena Stage, honoring Cathy Hughes and Reverend Jesse Jackson.
“People need to be affirmed everywhere,” said civil rights activist Reverend Jesse Jackson in an interview with Washington Life. “There’s so much negativity…so much oppression of black people and brown people and poor people, so much manipulation—so affirmation always matters.”
We spoke with Jackson at the Mead Center for American Theater at Arena Stage during Icon Talks’ “An Evening of Empowerment,” where he was being honored. Hundreds of supporters gathered to see famous icons like Jackson and media mogul Cathy Hughes honored at the event hosted by Omari Hardwick, star of the hit TV show “Power.”
If the name Cathy Hughes is unfamiliar name to some, it is because of the lack of information for or about African Americans in news resources in the past. It was through her own work that she created a more reliable source, especially for African American viewers, with fast and accurate reporting. She is one of the first African American women to lead and own a nationally recognized broadcast network, TV One.
Hughes, Hardwick and Reverend Jackson were not the only celebrities under the spotlight in Washington that night.
Louis Young III, Josh Morgan and Lisa Cohen were among some of the professional athletes on the red carpet, along with Wanda Durant and Grammy nominated singer, Carolyn Malachi. All public figures were attending to promote the work of Icon Talks and contribute to an open dialogue on equality, perseverance and change in America.
In the year 2016, young African American students around the nation are still facing discrimination from teachers and sometimes peers. African American actors are presented with limitations in their jobs in Hollywood, members of the LGBTQ community have suffered from hate crimes, and women are still getting cat-called on their way to work. These are only some of the topics that came up on stage in a conversation between Hardwick and Icon Talks founder John Burns.
Icon Talks gives leaders, artists and the community an opportunity to relate personal experiences, discuss what it means to be an icon, and collaborate through inspiration. With the help of Icon Talks and the ICON to ICAN Foundation, the audience expressed that they felt hope for more equality and less violence in the years to come.
Not only did they acknowledge what needs change, but Icon Talks founders also discussed how to implement positive reformations. The best way to ensure a brighter future, according to Icon Talks team member, Dr. Rudyard Hillard, is to encourage children and give them the foundation they need to succeed.
ICON to ICAN, Hillard explained, arranges and funds empowerment programs for disadvantaged kids, and is the charitable counterpart to Icon Talks. Whether they have an economic or physical disability, ICON to ICAN provides a way for young people to meet with their icons for inspiration, and helps them overcome their circumstances.
Hillard also noted that right now in the media, all you see is a poor representation of African Americans usually involving drugs, violence and poverty, and you rarely watch black men and women who are doing well.
“Our goal is to change that dialogue, that narrative,” he explained.
The speakers and performers of “An Evening of Empowerment” reinforced the importance of uplifting children and provided lasting inspiration. Hardwick recalled stories from his own childhood, challenges he encountered in his profession and how he became a successful actor. After a poetry performance, he joined Burns and fellow co-founder John Hartsfield in awarding Hughes and Reverend Jackson.
The team and founders of Icon Talks work to inspire and uplift the African American community, specifically children, but the reach of their example has expanded even farther than that.
“Without being altered by your race, by your gender, by your religion—to be fully human—human rights must be measured by one yardstick,” Reverend Jackson said, adding that we need, “human rights for all human beings.”
Hughes echoed this focus on human rights in her acceptance speech, saying that the greatest accomplishment in life is not monetary success or fame or academic prestige, but rather, to “achieve unconditional love for other human beings.”