COLUMBIA — Hope was the theme of this year's NAACP Image Awards hosted by MU’s NAACP Unit 4731.
In recognition of outstanding dedication to education, community service and overall scholastic excellence, the group honored more than 10 students Sunday and presented them with awards named after some of the most celebrated civil rights pioneers of the last century.
The evening began with pianist and MU student Lysaundra Campbell, who was also a nominee, playing softly for a crowd of more than 100 reception attendees. John Mitchell, secretary of NAACP, welcomed guests and handed the ceremony over to emcees Shanae Adams and Clifford Green.
For the next few hours, students from an array of academic backgrounds and interests received awards for their commitment to the NAACP’s mission: "to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination."
Both the national anthem and "Lift Every Voice and Sing," known as the Black National Anthem, were sung by soloists Kheyra Halane and Rachel Davis before the first award of the night; the Mary White Ovington Outstanding Freshman Award was given to MU freshman Lechae Mottley for her work in several campus organizations while still maintaining a 3.862 GPA*.
Recipients of the awards thanked family, teachers, friends and members of their organizations for recognition.
Briana Jones, who accepted two awards, one on behalf of Kam Phillips and the other on behalf of her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., said simply, “service is what we’ve been called to do,” upon accepting the Coretta Scott King Organization of the Year Award for her sorority.
Kam Phillips, whose organization Dream Outside the Box won the Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta Award for community service, missed the ceremony to meet President Barack Obama after winning the Campus Champions of Change, awarded by the White House.
Justin McCain, an MU English major, nominee and poet, presented a poem titled “A Letter to My Unborn Grandson,” in which he embraced family and celebrated greatness in a legacy that he said he plans to leave not only to MU, but to the world.
“To me, poetry is many things," McCain said. "You get the rare chance to control emotions, for just a few minutes. I want to continue to spread my message. This piece exudes how important family is to me. Everything I said in that poem, I plan to make it happen, plain and simple."
There were performances interwoven between the awards, including a contemporary ballet performance by three MU women and a performance by a cappella quartet KAMMeo, encompassing the idea of excellence in both the arts and education, one of the many themes the NAACP focused on throughout the evening.
Antineice Sills and Jamal Andress received the evening's highest award, the Charles Hamilton Houston Career Collegiate Achievement Award, which recognized both students for their outstanding commitment to Columbia and other students as well as their commitment to their own education, success and achievement.
Sills, who also received the Barbara Jordan Student of the Year Award, accepted both of her awards, quoting a poem by Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”
Andress, one of only two black men graduating with a bachelor of journalism degree this spring and fellow recipient of the Hamilton Houston Career Collegiate Achievement Award, closed his acceptance speech with a simple quote from former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, “There are no traffic jams along the extra mile."
The keynote speaker of the ceremony and recipient of the Norman Say Lifetime Achievement Award, ethnomusicologist Stephanie Shonekan, spoke to the audience about the state of black music and challenged them to hear things and do things differently.
"For me, this is special because the NAACP has always done new things," Shonekan said. "I think as we stand at this moment, where pop culture is seeping the power out of our voices, it’s another opportunity to inspire the community to look inward and take back the voice of the people.”
Departing President Secily Devese, who turned over the office to emcee and award recipient Adams before closing the evening, said, “I’m just really excited about what we’re doing. We do so much and there's still more to come.”