Xernona Clayton is an award-winning journalist in addition to being the founder, president and CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. She is also the creator and executive producer of the Trumpet Awards.
The Trumpet Awards is a prestigious event highlighting African American accomplishments. Initiated in 1993 by Turner Broadcasting, the Trumpet Awards has been televised annually and distributed internationally to over 185 countries around the world.
For more than 40 years, Xernona Clayton has played key roles in everything from the Civil Rights movement to network television. Partnering with Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s Circle of Promise, More than 500 guests attended An Evening with Xernona presented by Susan G. Komen for the Cure April 1 at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza in Los Angeles. The evening was designed in recognition of the past as well as to engage, educate and empower women of color to end breast cancer.
Ms. Clayton began her television career in 1967 and became the south’s first Black person to have her own television show. The Xernona Clayton show, was a regular feature on WAGA-TV, CBS affiliate in Atlanta. Clayton was employed at Turner Broadcasting for nearly 30 years where she served as a corporate executive.
In 1988, Xernona Clayton was appointed Corporate Vice President for Urban Affairs with Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. In this capacity, she directed internal and external projects for the Corporation, and served as liaison between Turner Broadcasting (TBS SuperStation, CNN, Headline News, TNT, Atlanta Braves and Atlanta Hawks) and civic groups in Atlanta and across the country. As a corporate executive, Ms. Clayton was one of the highest-ranking female employees in Turner Broadcasting System.
The Sentinel recently caught up with Xernona Clayton and asked her about the recent airing of the 2009 Trumpet Awards and her involvement with breast cancer awareness.
Sentinel: How did you get involved with Susan G. Komen for the Cure?
XC: We had met several years ago. They had put forth a conservative effort to reach the African American community because they recognized that women of African American decent are more likely to die form cancer than others who have breast cancer. So they said we need to get the message out to let people know what the high percentage is and what the possibilities are and the probabilities. So they asked me to be one of the ambassadors. So it works well because all though I have not been personally impacted, I don’t have any friends or relatives and I don’t have breast cancer. People often think that’s how you get involved but I’ve always demonstrated compassion for those who suffer. I got that so strongly when I worked with Dr. King. He said we must always render assistance for those in need and whatever their needs are. So I’ve demonstrated to them (Susan G. Komen for the Cure) that I had an extreme interest and I was a person who once got educated, converted to doing annual mammograms. So my job is to help them send the message out to the community and basically the African American Community.
Sentinel: The 2009 Trumpet Awards recently aired on television, how did this years ceremony differ from past award presentations?
XC: Ambassador Andrew Young said it best when he said he thought in his travels and his experiences that he had met everybody and been everywhere but when he comes to Trumpet Awards he meets somebody whom he does not know and walks away feeling so inspired by this new acquaintance, this new knowledge and this new excitement of some pride of African American achievement. So each year it’s different because we introduce not only people you know but also people you don’t know and that is such a satisfying aspect of our business that we are a constant learning source that people learn more about people whom they didn’t know.
Sentinel: What would be one of your most memorable moments involving the Trumpet Awards?
XC: We honored a doctor based out of Miami and he said, “We have to return to doing house calls”. What he did was he started to take his practice to the streets because that’s where a lot of people’s homes were, they were homeless. So the streets became their home and he started administering in those streets. I was so excited about that story. Two days out of the week this doctor would go down to the gullies of Miami area and where there was a high concentration of homeless people, take his black bag, an assistant or two and practice medicine right in the streets.
Sentinel: What did you learn working alongside Martin Luther King, Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott-King?
XC: Dr. King always said that white people didn’t hate us just because they just hated us; he said in many instances white people hated us because they didn’t know us. And so once you learn you know somebody, when you learn about the cultures of other people you move one step closer to maybe loving them. He (Martin Luther King, Jr.) use to say that all the time, we’ve got to figure out ways to have them to know us and I feel like I am carrying on that message in a sense and that mission. That I’m helping people and we’ve dispelled myths through this program. I’ve had white citizens call me to tell me that they didn’t know we were so important to contributing to the richness of this great society in which we live. They didn’t know it because when you grow up in prejudice, bigotry and hatred you only learn and adapt and govern your actions based on what you know. People were taught in some cases that black people were lazy and didn’t want to work and they would just rather receive well-fare and get something free. They didn’t really know that we were out there hustling feeding the streets and trying and begging for an opportunity to go through an open door. And so we are proving that there are people out there, who have been for a long time and still are there contributing. But because of racism we have been denied opportunity.
Sentinel: Would that be our toughest obstacle as African Americans?
XC: That’s been our plight as African Americans, denied opportunity. So now through our program we are showing just give us an opportunity. That’s what Mr. Obama is proving right now. He is capable and able. He now has the opportunity and that what all of us have been asking for. Open the door, let us try and see what we can do.
Sentinel: What advice would you give to younger individuals trying to make it in the business?
XC: Keep on trying. Keep on going. And I say that in a general way because you can have doors closed to you. So that first try is not enough if you get slammed. Don’t stop! Perseverance will pay off. Perseverance will win. So you keep your name clean, your reputation in tact and a strong set of values will stand the test of time.