Last week at the Schomburg Center For Research and Black Culture, the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora held an awards ceremony in Harlem, New York, hosted by legendary actress Kim Coles, best known for her role as the quirky and comedic “Synclaire” on Fox’s Living Single. The ceremony, seen as the kick-off to the Film Festival and Lecture Series commencing Saturday, October 22, honored media powerhouse, Cathy Hughes, and “Power” actress and singer, Naturi Naughton. While the festival is in it’s 19th year, the awards ceremony is in its first, and when HBR asked, “why now?”, festival curator, Lisa Durden,expressed it simply and powerfully, “You always hear about giving people their flowers while they can smell them. Well that’s what we are doing. TV One is my religion and Naturi is representing for the younger audiences every night on Power. They are both inspirations.”
This common theme, women inspiring women through a cycle of generations, would prevail throughout the night. The Schomburg housed hundreds of men and women that night (a few of the notable audience members included, Susan Taylor, publicist Terry Williams, Bobby Humphries, Bob Sumner) but with every mention, every speech, every salutation, the message was clear, tonight’s focus was on the honorees and the absolute need, as host, Kim Coles, said “pull each other along”. The program beautifully wove this theme through song election, performances, video tributes, and impromptu moments.The ceremony began with a motivational opening song from The Voice Season 8, Kimberly Nichole. Backed by a guitar, Kimberly’s powerhouse vocals, a mix between your favorite 70s soul singer and your favorite 90s singer, belted out an original song about keeping your heads above the clouds and not being plagued with the all too familiar “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve’s”. By the unanimous head bopping in the audience, everyone could relate.
One of the funniest moments of the night, was when Cathy Hughes,Founder and Chair of Radio One Inc., was accepting the Hattie McDaniel Award, presented by her great grand nephew, Kevin John Goff. Hughes regaled the audience with tales of growing up in the midwest, and her mother wanting her to be exposed to music outside of the standard country genre. The solution? A transmitter radio. The problem? Cathy then started locking herself in the bathroom for an hour every morning to host her morning show, despite five other people banging on the door because they had to get ready. “I had a show to do”, Cathy recalls, “I couldn’t keep my audience waiting.” From an audience of toothbrushes, a toilet, and a shower, to an audience of millions on national radio, television, and digital platforms, Cathy has no plans of slowing down the growth of her empire. In fact, Howard University plans to rename the school of communications to the Cathy Hughes School of Communications this upcoming weekend. HBR spoke with the ever-adapting business woman to ascertain how she managed to not only change with the current of media, but to be ahead of the trends, positioning herself and her companies for successful business moves. “Because people your age changed and I had to keep up with you. Millennials will make you learn and grow properly.” Still, that motivation from bathroom radio host, to her first radio show in Washington, D.C. was a leap of faith, especially as a young single mother. Ironically, the very thing that kept her going was an accomplishment that someone before her already conquered, “I wanted to be the first African American to have a nationally syndicated radio show. She[Hattie McDaniel] had already done it. And I’m so grateful I was 40 before I figured it out because that goal in radio is what kept me going.” How fitting is it then, that Cathy Hughes received the award named after the person, who unbeknownst to her, was giving her motivation the whole time.
If pulling women forward was the primary theme, then this cross-generational circle of success was the vehicle through which the theme was executed. In one of those “not a dry eye in the house” moments, Naturi Naughton was presented with the Trailblazer Award from someone she inspired and admired, Kyemah McEntyre. Kyemah, an East Orange, New Jersey native, went viral after making an African Print prom dress last year. Since then, she is enrolled at Parson’s School of Design, but also made a dress for fellow Jersey girl, Naturi Naughton to wear to the BET awards that same year. HBR was on the red carpet when Naturi, who was not aware that Kyemah was presenting the award, spotted her walking into the ceremony. Naturi’s affection for her was evident, literally stopping mid interview to ensure she got pictures with the young designer before the ceremony started. When Kyemah was on stage presenting the award, she initially read her speech but moved by Naturi’s genuine connection, she put the paper down and spoke from the heart, thanking Naturi for something she said most success stories do not do, and that is come back to East Orange.
Memorable moments from the night also came in the form of Kim Coles performing an excerpt from her monologue, Oh But Wait,There’s More, where she and her mom were in a NC walmart and she was swarmed by customers and workers, until her walmart famous mother Ms. Bernice came out of the bathroom and received all of the attention, and a soul stirring performance of soul singer Meli’sa Morgan singing “Love Changes”.
The actual festival starts October 22, and tickets as well as the program schedule can be found on the Reel Sisters website.