Today I would like to feature an outstanding woman in the HUMAN RIGHTS CHAPTER of VISIONARIES CHANGE THE WORLD: Make a Commitment and Take Action. XERNONA CLAYTON, A FRIEND OF OVER 20 YEARS HAS HAD AN ILLUSTRIOUS CAREER. She grew up in a small town of Oklahoma. She was surrounded by many different cultures and her father, a minster of a local church, told her she should respect everyone, black, brown, yellow and the American Indians. She took those words to heart and carried them through her career.
Xernona was the FIRST African-American woman to have her own TV show, and later, Ted Turner at Turner Broadcast Systems asked her to join him and she became his top woman in TBS. Each year, Xernona invites people to an event called the Trumpet Awards. I’ve had the honor of being invited every year. During that time, I have had the opportunity of meeting some of the honorees of that program.
• Quincy Jones (& those of you who love music realize how much Quincy has been involved in that)
• It was fun to get into an elevator with 7 ft. 2 in. Kareen Abdul-Jabbar
who had to crouch over just to get in.
• Marian Wright Edelman
• Mayor Maynard Jackson, Jr.
• Actor Sidney Poitier
• Gen. Collin Powell, and in my interview with him, Ted Turner JUMPS over a barricade and greets the General. My response was, “Ted! you ruined my interview!” which is not the kind of thing people usually say to Ted Turner.
• Archbishop Desmond Tutu
• Musical wonder, Stevie Wonder, who plays beautifully even without his eyesight.
• And of course Dick Gregory who always shows up with some funny jokes, even when they’re a little off color, everybody laughs.
But my fondest memories are of sitting and talking with Rosa Parks, who as you know, refused to give her seat up and move to the back of the bus. She told me she was tired after working 12-14 hours as a seamstress, but more than that, she realized that it was not right. Rosa’s mother was a schoolteacher, and had educated her well. Rosa had attended many meetings about nonviolence. After this, Martin Luther King, Jr. realized that this would be a good beginning for the nonviolence movement to start. And thus began a new chapter in America’s history.
Today, after 19 years, Xernona Clayton still has a strong group of friends and people who participate in this annual event only open to those invited.