The Story continues as Will Downing Serenades Attorney General Kamala Harris as the recipient of the Bremond-Bakewell Pioneer of African American Achievement Award
Starting in 1975, the Brotherhood Crusade’s annual award has became an much anticipated event in the Los Angeles community, and beyond. This year, the honoree will be California’s first African American Attorney General, the Honorable Kamala Harris and Will Downing will provide the entertainment. But how did it all get started?
Charisse Bremond-Weaver, the current president and CEO remembers the days when the Brotherhood Crusade met in her family’s living room. The times were explosive. In 1965, Watts went up in the flames as a community, already on edge, reacted to what appeared to be unfair treatment of a Black man by police. (Turmoil continued to tear at the seams of the country as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy were both assassinated just two months apart in 1968).
Walter Bremond responded to the times by organizing the Los Angeles Black Congress in 1965, and the Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade in 1968.
“What we were after in the late sixties was a new form of self-determination,” said Dr. Negail Riley, one of the early Brotherhood Crusade’s organizers.
Bremond, Riley, and others who were there from the beginning, helped Brotherhood Crusade gain traction by founding the National Black United Fund (NBUF) in 1974. That entity scored a major victory five years later, when a Federal Court in Washington ruled that Brotherhood Crusade, along with other minority charities, could raise money through Federal employees’ payroll deductions.
For Bremond, NBUF reflected his belief that Blacks “had a responsibility to assist in our own growth and development, and that we could not forever go to the larger White community and ask for support of programs we believe are important for our survival, without doing something ourselves.’ ”
While he moved to the East Coast to help the fund grow, Danny Bakewell took on the roles as president and CEO of the Brotherhood Crusade, where he remained for more than 35 years, helping the organization become an institution. In 1980, he negotiated the purchase of the $1 million, 17,000-square-foot complex in South Los Angeles that still serves as the Brotherhood Crusade’s headquarters. In 1982, Bremond passed away at 48 years old.
The Brotherhood Crusade is now a nationally recognized institution that has provided more than $60 million to community programs and services throughout Southern California. While NBUF has grown into a federation of 28 non-profit organizations around the country that support families and communities in the United States, the Caribbean and Africa.
The annual award dinners have continued as Charisse Bremond-Weaver, who has spent her career serving the nonprofit sector, became president and CEO in 2006.
And in 2011, she will honor the Attorney General, and Will Downing will be the entertainment.
A few years ago, Downing attended the Brotherhood Crusade dinner with his wife, Audrey Wheeler, who happened to sing back up for Chaka Khan that night, “and I happened to be in town,” he recalled. “It was a really nice event.” So when the Brotherhood Crusade invited Downing to perform at its 2011 Pioneers Dinner, he made it one of the appearances he said “yes” to, this year.
At the event, Attorney General Harris will receive the prestigious Bremond-Bakewell Award, named for Walter Bremond the founder; and Danny J. Bakewell Sr., the builder and current chairman of the board.
Proceeds from the Pioneer dinner support numerous youth-oriented programs that range from health and fitness, to education, to economic empowerment, and benefit traditionally underserved communities in South Los Angeles. Valued supporters of the organization’s award dinner include dozens of generous patrons, including Verizon, Wells Fargo, and the Los Angeles Sentinel.
“I have to be a lot more selective in what I take and what I do,” said Downing, who is nearly back to full strength after a bout with Polymyositis. He was diagnosed with the inflammatory disease roughly four years ago, and it affected muscles around his trunk area, forcing him to record music from a hospital bed or wheelchair. His pace was slowed because he could only sing a line or a two at a time.
“There’ve been times where I felt like I could pick up a train, and there’ve been times when I felt like I’d been hit by a train,” said the singer who, these days, is feeling more and more like his old self.
Downing, the father of three, suggested that his illness helped him see how wise a choice he’d made in Wheeler. “When things like this happen to people, folks run. Fortunately my wife hung in there with me.”
There wasn’t one particular moment that he felt was a turning point. “There were just little things that I couldn’t do the day or week before, that I could now do. I couldn’t do five reps of one exercise, and then I ended up doing ten.”
“Even at my very worst I sang,” Downing said, “and believe it or not, singing wasn’t high on my priority list, living was my priority… Singing is something that God has blessed me with, and there are other things you can do if you have your health.
The singer is currently at work on his next album, Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which will likely be released in early 2012. In the meantime, he’s warming up his pipes to entertain the crowd at Friday night’s Brotherhood Crusade dinner.
Bremond-Weaver’s ability to establish corporate and community partnerships distinguishes her tenure. In five years, she has generated more than $20 million in contributions that not only go to Brotherhood Crusade programs, but also support more than 100 other worthy Southern California nonprofits such as Mothers In Action, Why Can’t We Make A Difference Foundation, Jenesse Center, African American Unity Center, Friends of EXPO Center, Pasadena Sports League, Hillsman Drug Abuse Center and Chess Tutors.
As a leader, Bremond-Weaver’s passion for her community continues to deepen. “It’s the same inspiration that caused my father to create an institution that has been on the earth almost as long as I have,” she said. “I am amazed at how much we’ve done and how much more there is to do.”