Xernona Clayton (Courtesy of Black Voice News, Riverside, Calif.)
By Joe C. Hopkins
Publisher, Pasadena SGV Journal News
Xernona Clayton, the founder of the Trumpet Awards and Civil Rights Walk of Fame celebrated her 80th birthday in the grand style that she is accustomed to and deserving of. The adviser, confidant and personal assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Coretta Scott King, was mentor to entertainment and Civil Rights giants, who also worked as Vice President of Urban Affairs at CNN under Ted Turner, held a 2-day event to celebrate her Birthday in Las Vegas, last weekend. Ms. Clayton was surrounded by those who love her and have looked to her for advice and counsel since the days when she was the first on air African American television host in the south.
Clayton, the daughter of a Baptist Preacher, started her celebration on with a salute to African American Preachers and ministers who have given much to their communities across America and the world. Her unselfish style of recognizing others who have given so much to the people they serve was evident when she paid tribute to God’s messengers with a Breakfast with the Lord’s Leaders by “giving honor to whom honor is due.”
The list of ministerial luminaries included Reverend Jim Holley, Ph.D of Detroit Michigan whose ministry is based on the philosophy of serving the needs of the people beyond the pulpit; Ms. Christine Johnson, mother of Magic Johnson, was honored for her ministry in Lansing, Michigan. She says that her ministry was magnified and enhanced by Magic’s illness and survival through her prayers. Her ministry says that Magic’s survival is evidence for the world of what God can do. Gospel music man, Dr. Bobby Jones, a class mate of Xernona’s at Tennessee State, has one of the longest running Gospel television shows where he spreads the gospel through music.
Others honored included, Dr. Carlton Byrd of Atlanta GA; Reverend G. Mansfield Collins of Los Angeles; Actor, Minister, Reverend Clifton Davis, a regular at Xernona’s events; Dr. Carlton Byrd of Atlanta, GA; Reverend Samuel Billy Kyles, Civil Rights activists of Memphis, TN who was with Dr. King during the Memphis garbage strikes and on that fateful day at the Lorraine Motel; Reverend Paul Martin of Quartz, California; Bishop Vashti McKenzie; Bishop Rudolph W. Mckissick, Jr.; and Reverend Joe Ratliff of Houston Texas. A rare treat was when Ms. Clayton introduced her childhood pastor from Muskogee, Oklahoma who shared that her birth was a prayer answered.
Reverend Berniece King, Dr. King’s youngest daughter, was there to say thanks to “Aunt” Xernona for all of her help through the losses of her father, her mother and more recently her sister. She said Xernona’s love was the fruit of the spirit and credited her with being the stabilizing force in her life after her mother, Coretta Scott King, passed.
Also honored was Father Michael L. Pfleger, the Catholic Priest of Chicago, known for his colorful, vehement defense of then candidate Barack Obama in the campaign against Hilary Clinton. He told Clayton that her life was the gospel lived. Reverend Dr. Barbara
Reynolds who was the first woman news commentator for network and cable news and an opinion writer for “USA Today”, and Former Civil Rights leader, ambassador, and mayor of Atlanta, Andrew Young, was honored as was Reverend Hilton O. Smith for his work in Cleveland Ohio and Ms. Tammy Trent from Nashville, Tennessee whose ministry grew out a trip to the beach where she kissed her husband goodbye and watched helplessly as he walked into the ocean, never to return.
Reverend Henry Carter and his wife Alice Carter of Las Vegas who were there to pray with Xernona’s twin sister as she lay dying when the identical twins were younger. Their presence provided a special and emotional moment at the celebration of the life of Xernona. One minister told the story of how Xernona went to church, seeking solace after the death of her twin sister, and volunteered to play the organ as a substitute for the piano player who was absent that day. Playing provided some therapeutic comfort from her pain. She, ultimately, she stayed and played the organ for sixteen years.
Other special guests included Ms. Shirley Sherrod who was fired by the USDA for alleged racist comments about a white farmer 24 years ago and her husband Mr. Charles Sherrod, one of the founders of SNCC, and Ms. Gayle Mays, the daughter of the former Georgia Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon, Calvin Craig, who Xernona had on her television show and converted him to lovingly acknowledge that it was Xernona who had converted him. Mays said her father changed and that changed the direction of the whole family. As the Grand Dragon, Craig dressed himself and his children in Klan robes and attire. That same little girl who had been raised to hate had now grown up to come and thank Ms. Clayton who she said had “healed her family” and changed the direction of her life.
Donations to the Xernona Foundation can be sent to Centennial Tower , 101 Marietta Street, suite 1080, Atlanta Ga. 30303. Donations will benefit the Rainbow Dreams Educational Foundation, The Xernona Clayton School of Ghana West Africa, and the Xernona Clayton Foundation, Atlanta Georgia.
On day two, in a press conference especially for the Black Press daubed, “Java with Journalists”, Shirley Sherrod recounted her experiences with additional facts about the Pigford settlement being more beneficial to Hispanic, native American and white women farmers, even though Black farmers started the litigation. President Barack Obama has caused 1.5 billion dollars to be the settlement amount. She longs for the day when she can tell her story to President Obama.
Sherrod chronicled the racism of the south and how it touched her life and shaped her life’s work. The murder of her father, the observation of black farmers, and citizens being killed and discriminated against just because of the color of their skin, motivated her to dedicate her life’s work to correcting these wrongs. She longs for the day when she can tell her story to President Obama. She stated that she would be proud to share with her grandchildren of the day that she was the first Black woman in charge of rooting out discrimination of Black farmers, but at the same time she grieves that she must tell them she was fired by the first Black President.
The grand finale of the weekend was a dinner attended by a few hundred of Claytons friends from across the United States West Africa and the West Indies. The entertainment for the evening was a virtual who’s who of Hollywood and the entertainment world. Gladys Knight thrilled the crowd with a rendition of “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me,” former Cosby Kid, Malcolm Jamal Warner who recited a poem, Florence LaRue, former “5th Dimension” star who sung, “Wind Beneath My Wings”, artist, Synthia Saint James, who presented an original work of Art, and master of ceremonies, comedian Johnathan Slocum.
Gifts poured in from those present and those who could not make it. A rare harmonica from Stevie Wonder was presented, and a Happy Birthday wish from Michelle and President Barack Obama was received. A doll designed by an African American company in Clayton’s image served as a fund raising item and sold for donations as high as $5,000 from luminaries such as comedian and actor Chris Tucker and Gladys Knight. The Dolls sell for $179.00. For donations or those wanting to order a doll, contact the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Centennial Tower, 101 Marietta Street, Suite 1080, Atlanta GA. 30303. Donations will benefit the Rainbow Dreams Educational Foundation, The Xernona Clayton School of Ghana, West Africa, and the Xernona Clayton Foundation, Atlanta, Georgia.
Photo courtesy of Black Voice News, Riverside, California.
— Author and Attorney Joe C. Hopkins is the co-publisher and Editor in Chief of the Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley Journal News in Pasadena, CA, and may reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone: (626) 798-3972.