Social advocacy group Equal Justice Now recently collaborated with Attorney Benjamin Crump to hold its 1st Annual Benjamin Crump Equal Justice Now Awards, honoring those who’ve committed their lives to social justice advocacy and equal rights for the marginalized.
The soiree was hosted by comedian Billy Sorrells and brought together more than 200 guests in the field of law, business and entertainment. Rapper NBA Youngboy, actress Persia White (Girlfriends), tattoo artist Katrina “Kat Tat” Jackson (Black Ink Crew: Chicago) and Obba Babatunde (How High) made special guest appearances along with performances by Jordyn Simone from “The Voice and Annie” “McFunny” McKnight.
The nights honorees included Congresswoman Maxine Waters, who received the Public Service Excellence Award, CEO and owner of Ebony Media, Willard Jackson, who received the Entrepreneur Excellence Award, renowned entertainment lawyer Darrell D. Miller, who received the night’s Entertainment Excellence Award and radio personality Dominique DiPrima, who accepted the Community Service Excellence Award on behalf of Stevie Wonder’s KJLH radio station.
In an electrifying chain of events, legendary civil rights activist and special honoree Reverend Jesse Jackson attended to personally accept the Icon Excellence Award. Jackson, who’s been reported in recent years to have an ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease, brought a burst of light and joy to the evening, sharing that the vision for social change in 2020 should be “protecting the right to vote.” “Without the vote, it’s like making bricks without straw, and when we vote, we win,” Jackson stated. “We have power when we vote.”
The Honorable Judge Greg Mathis was also in attendance, honored for his extensive years of service to the community with the Judicial Excellence Award. In a candid conversation with “America’s Judge,” Mathis says that out of the thousands of cases he has tried over the years, the core issues involve substance abuse and socioeconomic oppression. “Most of it is drugs, alcohol, the root cause being poverty and a failed education system,” he said. “Most of them are there for debts that they owe, destructive lifestyles that they’ve led that have caught up with them and now they must pay, but it gives me an opportunity to influence their lives for the better,’ Mathis continued.
When asked about Bryan Stevenson’s (Just Mercy) recent statement of society treating the rich and guilty better than the poor and innocent, Mathis says the truth is, he still faces discrimination even as an accomploshed judge and contributor to the community. “The fact is, I’m still nervous when I see police. I was stopped by the police twice in the last two years and they’re not always kind when they approach the door,” he said. “There’s still always this sense, that you have to fight the justice system for fairness,” Mathis continued. As for the young people of color in the struggle, Mathis says “they have to do exactly what they’re doing with Black Lives Matter, wake up, fight back, rise up.”
With a unique perspective as a top-female journalist in sports, former ESPN correspondent Jemele Hill says being a rich, Black athlete is a “catch 22, because at the end of the day, you’re still Black and the system will treat you as such.” Honored with the Journalism Excellence Award for her work with ESPN and The Atlantic, Hill says that Black athletes, celebrities and public figures must be certain to “keep that connection with our community.”
Highlighting Colin Kaepernick’s experience of signing a multi-million dollar NFL contract, to advocating for social justice, then being stripped of the very thing he’s worked so hard for, Hill says “all the money he has couldn’t stop that from happening,” which is why having community is so critical.
“We’re not only a resilient people, we’re a forgiving people and knowing that, it would be dangerous for us, if once we got to a certain level, that we decided we no longer wanted to be in close connection with our community,” Hill said.
And the evening wouldn’t be complete without interviewing Attorney Benjamin Crump, known for representing high-profile cases such as in the inhumane deaths of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and Michael Brown at the hands of police.
Citing Amber Guyger as “the first White police woman to be convicted of first degree murder in America,” Crump says that the journey to justice is real and that we must “hold a mirror to America’s face to acknowledge the hypocrisy, the discrmination, because that’s the only way we can start to get to a solution is to first admit there is a problem.”
Equal Justice Now is a social advocacy group founded by Tony Smith whose mission is to preserve the rights of our citizens. One of the group’s more immediate objectives is to stop funding ineffective and expensive bail legislation. For exclusive interviews with the evening’s guests, visit www.lasentinel.net.
1. (l-r ) Honorable Judge Mathis, Reverend Jesse Jackson and Attorney Benjamin Crump at 1st Annual Benjamin Crump Equal Justice Now Awards