It is an honor and privilege to have alumni CBC member President Barack Obama address this year's Phoenix Awards Dinner," said Pennsylvania Rep. Chaka Fattah, the chair of the CBCF board. [His] presence, together with our recognition of President Clinton for his global advocacy work, will make this a historic evening for CBCF." Reps. Donna Edwards of Maryland and Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana serve as honorary co-chairs.
Coming on the heels of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the ceremony will pay tribute to the Spirit of 1963" and the advances that the march led to in American life, from voting rights and school desegregation to Obama's historic election to the presidency in 2008.
President Obama's decision to keynote the dinner underscores the importance of our mission to expand opportunities in health, education, and economic recovery for black people around the world," said A. Shuanise Washington, CBCF president and chief executive officer. This year is especially important given that we are celebrating the historic advances our country has made since the 1963 March on Washington."
The dinner will honor the achievements of former President Bill Clinton, Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings and Elaine Jones, former president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The honorees will receive the Phoenix Award for their contribution to African-American political awareness and empowerment, as well as to the advancement of minorities in the electoral process.
MSNBC television host Tamron Hall and actor Wendell Pierce, who is best known for his work in HBO dramas, will serve as the emcees. The awards gala will also feature jazz chanteuse Stephanie Jordan.
Stephanie Jordan who performed at the ALC following hurricane Katrina said, “I am honored to be invited to perform for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Gala (CBCF) and in front of the President and First Lady Michelle Obama. For it was entertainers such as Lena Horne, Mahalia Jackson, Harry Belafonte; one of tonight’s honorees, Sam Cooke and other early supporters of the Civil Rights movement from the entertainment industry who understood that “It Starts With You” to be their call to affect change. It is their steadfast approach in the quest for equality which inspires me as we move forward into the next 50 years.”
Jordan recalls that Lena Horne was very involved in the movement, she had been active at the 1963 March on Washington and even spoke alongside Medgar Evers at a NAACP rally in Jackson, Mississippi a week before his murder; Mahalia Jackson has be credited with encouraging Dr. Mr. Luther King to improvise on his famous I have a dream" speech by crying out Tell them about dream, Martin!" during his address; Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come" became a rallying call for the Civil Rights Movement; and Harry Belafonte's role as a social activist is well documented and continues today. As performers it is imperative that we recognize our role and responsibility to help shape society and affect public policy."
Jordan adds, “In addition to being a great performer, Lena Horne was applauded by many and shunned by others for refusing to play roles that stereotyped African-American women. Horne remained active in the Civil Rights Movement even though she had been blacklisted by Hollywood for her activist role. She performed at rallies around the country on behalf of the NAACP, the National Council for Negro Women, Delta Sigma Theta sorority, and the National Urban League and other civic causes.”
According to Horne’s Kennedy Center biography, she refused to perform “for segregated audiences or to groups in which German POWs were seated in front of African American servicemen." She was, as well, outspoken when she met with prominent officials—including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt—about the need to pass anti-lynching laws.
Jordan will be accompanied by her brother trumpeter Marlon Jordan, and the Clarence Knight Orchestra. This performance continues her history of performing before high profile audience members; she has had the honor of singing for Vice President Joe Biden as well as being selected by the National Urban League to sing to Stevie Wonder during NUL's 2012 National Conference. Jordan also performed at the private celebration 'Oprah Winfrey and Friends of Susan Taylor' at New York City's ESPACE in honor of Susan Taylor's 37 years of service to Essence magazine.
In keeping with the spirit of the march, this year's theme - 'It Starts With You' - reflects the Foundation's goal of inspiring individuals to become agents of change in their communities," Washington said.
Note: The Washington Informer contributed to this story.