The 11th Annual Triumph Awards were hosted virtually honoring Tyler Perry, Angela Bassett, D-Nice, Sarah Jakes-Roberts and Brittany Packnett Cunningham. (Courtesy Photo)

By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor

With the COVID-19 pandemic plaguing communities across the world, for the first time in its 11-year history, National Action Network’s Triumph Awards were held virtually and honored major Black changemakers including film and television mogul Tyler Perry, celebrated actress Angela Bassett, the legendary DJ D-Nice and activist and NBC and MSNBC contributor Brittany Packnett Cunningham.  While many events were cancelled due to coronavirus, NAN President and Founder Rev. Al Sharpton, told the {AFRO} in an exclusive interview that the Triumph Awards, which aired on Dec. 7 and is still on their website and Facebook page, was important today more than ever.

“We are a people whose history is full of finding a way, even in the most tragic and devastating times to find triumph anyway. And those that have been able to, even in a year that many of us will never forget for its devastation, there are those that have risen to the occasion and found triumph anyway. And we said even though we can’t have the gathering, every year we’ve had Lincoln Center in New York. We had it in Atlanta twice, and we had it at the Apollo Theatre last year,” Sharpton said on AFRO Live on Dec. 4

In his introduction at the Triumph Awards, NAN Board President Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, underscored the importance of having the ceremony, despite 2020’s challenges. 

“Tonight we pause and reflect on the sacrifices of those who’ve paid a way for us, and in these trying times, these times of struggle and uncertainty, many families have hardship this year. Many of us are trying to figure out how to make ends meet and keep going. And tonight, we recognize our strength, our power and perseverance. Our strength in collective organizing and service and the many ways we have triumphed over adversity and disadvantage to bring hope and comfort to each other in this time of need,”Richardson said.

During his Facebook Live interview with the {AFRO}, Sharpton explained that each honoree contributed to the triumph found in the trying times of 2020.

“We want people during the holiday season to know that you can find victory and take it out of the jaws of defeat. That is why we were careful to choose honorees that did that,” the activist and NAN founder explained.

“Tyler Perry not only has he built the first Black studio in Atlanta that hires 400 people everyday, he’s committed to the cause,” Sharpton said.

When George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis and attorney Ben Crump called Sharpton to organize rallies,  Perry was one of the first people the activist spoke to in order to help the fallen’s family.

“A lot of people don’t understand that George Floyd was in Minneapolis alone. His family was in Houston and North Carolina. It was Tyler that said, ‘Yes, I’m working on a lot of films, yes I’m winning awards, but I’ll provide private planes to take care of the family. I will do what I can to pay for the funeral.’ And Robert Smith, the Black billionaire, called and did the same thing,” Sharpton said. “George Floyd would not have been sent home to the other side without the contributions and involvement of Tyler Perry. We’re honoring him for his great work as a mogul, but that he was not so high that he could not see the needs in his community.”

Sharpton said Bassett was chosen as an honoree due to her commitment to Black excellence. “Through her career, she has shown Black excellence, at best.  She could have taken cheaper roles, she could have done things that would have been commercially more advantageous, but she has always represented a certain line of excellence that she would not compromise,” Sharpton said.

The NAN founder said D-Nice served as our peace during the pandemic storm. “All of us that went through the pandemic will never forget how he started these sessions that went for hours all night, all day, that lifted our spirits, played our music, gave us something to tune into, and he had no idea.  And I’ve known D-Nice for probably a decade and a half or two, and he never did it any differently than he always does, but he became the safe station that we could see some light in all this darkness. So we’re honoring D-Nice for being our comfort in a danger zone,” she said.

Jakes-Roberts, Sharpton said, has also been a beacon of light, and that is why she is an honoree. “We’re having Rev. Sarah Jakes-Roberts, an outstanding faith leader in the country.  Her father, everyone knows T.D. Jakes, but she, in her own right, is a great shero, who preaches a dynamic word of hope and faith and deals with our brokenness,” the activist explained.

On the evening of the Triumph Awards, Sharpton said Cunningham, the recipient of the President’s Award for Leadership and Community Service, made him a stronger person.  “Brittany Cunningham is a young woman who I’ve known for a long time now and I admire her more than I can really say.  Every time we run into one another it is impactful to me. I walk away with a more complete idea of the world than I had before,” he said.

Sharpton emphasized that African Americans are offspring of strong ancestors, and for that reason it is important to celebrate triumph.

“We need to remember that we are in this country because we were taken from the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and enslaved.  We were brought across the Atlantic Ocean in the mid-Atlantic slave trade, but a lot of times what we forget is that coming across those torrential waters, we were chained to one another.  One on our right, could’ve died. They didn’t remove them, there was no medical experts or medical facilitators on ships, they were just shackled to us dead, and we had to ride for days and weeks with a dead body on one side, somebody on the other that may have been sick with some kind of disease.  And yet we rose, which means that by the time we got to the shores of the United States to go into slavery, the strongest, the ones that survived the Atlantic passages, are the ones that are our forefathers,” he said.  “We are in our vein, the children of the strongest Africans that survived the pandemic of the slave trade.  So we have no excuse to ever back down, to ever bow our heads, to ever concede to defeat, setbacks every now and then, but never defeat, because in our very blood, is the blood of people that said ‘I’ve taken the worst that humanity has ever thrown and I’m still here.  That’s who we are, that’s our bloodline.  We need to proclaim it and face any situations we have today,” Sharpton explained.


Micha Green

AFRO Washington, D.C. Editor