Fifteen years ago, Xernona Clayton conceived of the idea to highlight the positive stories of African Americans who had been left out of history. She wanted to tell those stories of the men and women who had persevered and made significant contributions to the richness of our world and America. And, she wanted to do it in away that would honor those of the past while also recognizing those of the present who are impacting the lives of our future. Hence, the birth of the Trumpet Awards.
Originally presented by Turner Broadcasting, where Clayton has made a significant mark over the past 30 years, the premier award show that heralds the accomplishments of Black Americans is now presented by the Trumpet Awards Foundation Inc, of which she is the founder, president and CEO.
“Racism and discrimination have done great harm to our society, and African Americans have been left out and not included in the history books,” Clayton began to explain in detail why she created the Trumpet Awards. “Black history week, then month, became the only time in the whole year we had any focus on African American achievement.
“I felt like there was just so much more that we could present because it would inspire young people who just needed those positive images and role models if nothing more than to just demonstrate to them that there’s a bigger world out there and opportunities out there that have been shut off and shut out. Mainly, I wanted to dispel myths among the White populous who really thought we weren’t doing anything as a people.”
Clayton, herself, had to face those myths head on as she moved up the ranks in the television industry. Breaking the color barrier in 1967, she became the first Black to have her own television show in the South. She also recalled being the first Black in the corporate environment at Turner Broadcasting, where she was brought on board to contribute to original programming. While there she hosted regularly scheduled interview programs, created programs for African American focus and created roundtable discussions on issues pertaining to African Americans. She remembers performing her craft so well that it opened the doors for other African Americans.
“With racism...the perception is that Blacks don’t perform their jobs well,” she commented. “But I just perform my craft very well because it’s part of my whole psyche to do everything well.”
Clayton credits much of her strong work ethic to her father, Rev. James Brewster of Oklahoma. She says he embedded in her spirit and mind that you have to be responsible for what you do and you have to be good at what you do.
“He used to say that racism was a challenge to everybody because it limits your mobility, but don’t let it ever restrict your ability,” Clayton recalled. “With racism, there may be some places you can’t go or things you can’t do, but in the meantime there are things that nobody can stop—your will and your zeal to have a burning yearn for learning.”
Another man who also greatly impact Clayton’s life was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Prior to her television career, Clayton worked closely with Dr. King and his wife Coretta. She traveled extensively with Mrs. King before moving to Atlanta in 1965 when she accepted a position with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Once there, she became an even more personal friend—and confidant—to the King family, celebrating birthdays together, and having private dinners and teas.
She recalled, “Dr. King would spring on to me a lot of the ideas that he was going to do and seek my opinion because he said that he liked my thinking. I look back on those years retrospectively and really value that so wonderfully.”
She also remembers his alone time—every Tuesday when he would go off to a remote location to study. “No one was to know where he was except the people who needed to, which was a fairly limited group,” she said. “My job then was to bring him lunch because he trusted me enough to not reveal where he was and keep the secrets of his whereabouts. That was very significant to me that he valued me enough as a friend to trust me enough with a secret part of his life.”
Being such a close and personal friend to Dr. King, Clayton feels that too much is emphasized on his now famous “I have a dream” words. To her, dreaming means that one is asleep, and the man did so much good when he was awake and alert.
“What I like best about all that represents Dr. King is that he practiced what he preached,” she said. “He was a man who believed strongly in non-violence and he practiced it. He felt strongly about the conditions that would make us learn about each other and hopefully love each other.
“He was strong on that and strongly committed to making peace instead of war. He didn’t even want street fights, let alone countries at war. He died trying to make a better life for others.”
Today, Clayton honors the legacy of Dr. King and those like him who significantly contribute to enhancing the quality of life for all with the annual Trumpet Awards. This year’s Trumpet Awards was held Sunday, January 13 in Atlanta, Georgia. The ceremony will air March 1 and will feature the 2008 honorees: Halle Berry—Entertainment Pinnacle Award; Chris “Ludacris” Bridges—Usher Raymond Altruism Award; Shareef Abdur-Rahim—Usher Raymond Altruism Award; Dr. T.B. Boyd III—business; The Honorable Paul L. Brady—legal; Danny Glover—humanitarian; Sheila C. Johnson—entrepreneur; Brian O. Jordan—athlete/developer; Dr. Vincent Moss and Dr. Vance Moss—medicine; Najee—arts; and Don Thompson—corporate executive.