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2017 Truth Awards honor African Americans in the LGBTQ community
From a press release

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LOS ANGELES — In the spirit of awards season, African Americans in the LGBTQ community took their bows and trophies at the third annual Truth Awards Gala on Saturday, March 11, 2017 at the Taglyan Cultural Complex in Los Angeles. The black-tie affair honored African-American, trailblazing men and women whose personal and professional accomplishments have positively impacted the perception and image of the Black LGBTQ community. The Truth Awards embodies the belief that members of the Black LGBTQ community and its allies who embrace and live their truth should be recognized and honored. The Truth Awards are presented by award-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph, The DIVA Foundation and Better Brothers Los Angeles.

It was a particularly festive night of celebration, especially on the heels of "Moonlight," making history as the first film to feature an all-Black cast for Best Picture as well as a film to focus on an LGBTQ storyline. Still, there was no envelope mixup because all the names called that night were winners. And all of the presenters offered such heartfelt words of how each honoree had influenced and changed their lives. Standing ovations punctuated the evening.

Thanks to modern technology, Tony-nominated actress Sheryl Lee Ralph opened the show with a video message from backstage on Broadway, where she's portraying Madame Morrible in "Wicked." ( Ralph is the first African American to star in the role. ) From there, actress Angela Robinson of Tyler Perry's "The Haves and Have Nots" on OWN, took over the hosting duties, and garnered some laughs during her welcome remarks when she announced to fans that she left her character, Veronica Harrington, at home for the evening.

Actress, comedienne and daytime talker Sherri Shepherd ( "The View," and "Trial and Error" ) presented the Media and Arts Award to her cousin — that is, executive producer Marcus Wilson Smith of KTLA-TV, which made the evening a personal one for her. She shared stories about growing up with Smith, and acknowledged the family's difficulty, at first, in accepting her cousin's sexual orientation.

Other presenters included actors Renee Lawless ( "Tyler Perry's "The Haves and Have Nots" ), Gabrielle Dennis ( "Rosewood" ), Parnell Damone Marcano ( "Greenleaf" ), Rodney Chester ( "Noah's Arc ), Nic Few ( "90 Days" ), Karla Mosley ( "The Bold and the Beautiful" ), reality star and transgender model Isis King ( "America Next Top Model" and "Strut" ), plus journalist Tre'Vell Anderson of the LA Times, writers/producers Deondray and Quincy Gossfield ( "The DL Chronicles," "The Chadwick Journals" ) and two-time Emmy-winning hairstylist Kiyah Wright as well as Emmy winner celebrity makeup artist Valente Frazier.

It was a particular emotional night for King and Mosley, who presented the History Maker Award to Tracey "Africa" Norman, the first African American transgender woman to work successfully as a beauty and high fashion model. Both women discussed how Norman was a role model to them — that is, King as an aspiring trans model, and Mosely, as an actress, researching Norman's life to bring authenticity to her role as a trans woman on the daytime series "The Bold and the Beautiful."

The last award of the evening went to the hardest-working woman in the business — that is, award-winning actress Loretta Devine. In her signature falsetto voice, she accepted the award, and dedicated it to her late mother, who passed recently. Plus, she shared funny anecdotes of how she did everything she could to win her mother's affection and favor, and make her other siblings a little jealous of her.

The special musical guest was two-time Grammy winner Ann Nesby, former lead singer of the R & B and gospel group, Sounds of Blackness. And DJ B-Hen provided the beats to some old school music for folks on the dance floor.

The DIVA Foundation and its founder Sheryl Lee Ralph are especially pleased to continue their partnership with Better Brothers Los Angeles ( BBLA ) on this effort. Both organizations believe a healthy Black community — one where individuals are allowed to live their truth, free of shame and stigma, and are recognized as equal and rightful members of the community — is a critical piece in the fight to also end HIV/AIDS. This year's honorees were picked from various fields, including entertainment, fashion, beauty, business, finance and media.

"Times are certainly changing!" says Ralph. "In this current political environment, it's important that we continue to support our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community, and make it possible for them to live out loud and openly for the world to see." "Our acceptance and understanding of the LGBTQ community will encourage, inspire and motivate others to live their truth, unapologetically."

Past honorees include activist Jewel Thais-Williams, Bishop Dr. Yvette A. Flunder, playwright Stanley Bennett Clay, advertising exec Aaron Walton, reality star Wendell James, and award-winning producer/singer/songwriter B. Slade.

The Truth Awards will benefit the DIVA Foundation and its partnership with BBLA, which has initiated several initiatives aimed at affirming and strengthening the African American LGBTQ community educationally, financially, physically and socially. For more information about the organization and its scholarship program, visit

The Truth Awards were made possible with the support of The Office of Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Gilead, AARP, In The Meantime and more.


And so, without further ado, here are the 2017 honorees of the Truth Awards:

JAMES EARL HARDY — Lifetime Achievement Award — is the author of the bestselling B-Boy Blues series, including B-Boy Blues, which has been praised as the first gay hip hop love story. The novel was a 1995 Lambda Literary Award ( Lammy ) finalist for Best LGBT/Small Press Title and was prominently featured in Spike Lee's film, "Get on the Bus." The book is required reading in contemporary African American fiction courses as well as gay and lesbian studies programs at colleges and universities. The eighth installment, Men of the House ( aka Li'l Brotha Man's Story ), will be released this summer. His first short story collection, Can You Feel What I'm Saying? was a 2013 Rainbow Award nominee for Best LGBT Erotica. He is also the author of biographies on award-winning director Spike Lee and Grammy-winning R & B boy band Boyz II Men. An honors graduate of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism, Hardy is also an entertainment feature writer and cultural critic whose byline has been appeared in Entertainment Weekly, Essence, The New York Daily News, New York Newsday, Newsweek, Out, The Source, Vibe, The Advocate, and the Washington Post — just to name a few. His work has earned him a GLAAD Media Award nomination; two Educational Press Association Awards; a Columbia University Press Association Feature Writing Prize; a Village Voice writing fellowship; grants from the E.Y. Harburg Arts Foundation and the American Association of Sunday & Feature Editors; scholarships from WNYW-TV ( New York ), the Paul Rapoport Memorial Foundation, and both the New York and national chapters of the Association of Black Journalists.

LORETTA DEVINE — Ally Award — is one of the hardest working actresses in Hollywood. After more than 30 years in the business, Devine nabbed an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Dramatic Role for her work on ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" in 2011. She received an Independent Spirit Award nod for Best Supporting Female for her role in "Women Thou Art Loosed." And she has been nominated for a slew of NAACP Image Awards in television and film, grabbing two awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture for her roles in "Waiting to Exhale" and "The Preacher's Wife," respectively. She picked up three more NAACP Image Awards for her work on David E. Kelly's Fox series, "Boston Public." Currently, she stars as Cynthia Carmichael on NBC's "The Carmichael Show." Still, it was her breakout role on the stage that brought her to national attention. In the role of Lorrell, the Houston native was one of the three original "Dreamgirls" in Michael Bennett's classic, award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. She followed that performance with a fiery portrayal of Lillian in Bob Fosse's critically-acclaimed stage production, "Big Deal." Other performances, including George C. Wolfe's "Colored Museum" and "Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill," which cemented Devine's status as one of the most talented and versatile stage actresses. Soon, film roles followed, and she's appeared in some of audiences' most beloved movies, including "Jumping the Brown," "This Christmas," Tyler Perry's "For Colored Girls" and "Madea's Big Happy Family," and of course, "Waiting to Exhale." Other film credits include the Academy award-winning film, "Crash," "I Am Sam," "What Women Want" and "Stanley and Iris."

TRACEY "Africa" NORMAN — History Maker Award — is a true history maker in every sense of the word. Norman is a pioneer in the trans community as the first African American transgender woman to work successfully as a beauty and high fashion model in the 1970s and 1980s. She's also the first African-American trans woman to grace Clairol's "Born Beautiful" haircolor boxes ( the bestselling dark auburn/box 512 ) in the 1970s. Norman worked undetected for years, until she was outed, and her modeling career came to an abrupt end. Fast forward 40 years later, and today, she's the face of Clairol's Nice 'n Easy "Color As Real As You Are" hair color campaign. Interestingly, her modeling career began when she accidentally walked into a casting for European designer Basile, and as they say: The rest is history. Along with top models of her era — that is, Peggy Dillard, Jennifer Price, Pita Greene and Romney Russo — she was featured in the Basile fashion layout for Italian Vogue, photographed by the late, internationally-renowned photographer Irving Penn. It was Penn, who discovered Norman, and was instramental in her landing with Zoli, then one of New York's top modeling agencies. Norman worked with a plethora of household names, such as Avon, Clairol, and Ultra Sheen cosmetics. She been featured in various publications, including New York Magazine, Out Magazine, Essence, Italian Vogue, Harper's Bazaar India, Maire Claire South Africa, Us magazine,, Madamenoire and Huffington Post — just to name a few. To hear Norman's truth, presented by Clairol, visit

SAM FINE — Beauty and Fashion Award — is the secret weapon behind the faces of some Hollywood's most beautiful women — that is, Queen Latifah, Kerry Washington, Jennifer Hudson as well as supermodels Tyra Banks, Iman and Naomi Campbell. They've relied on the expert hand of makeup artist Sam Fine to look their most glamorous. That's because Fine knows that the key to make up goes beyond painting a pretty face. Long before he became a celebrity makeup artist, the Chicago native paid his dues by working behind the cosmetic counters of department stores, an experience he fondly refers to as "the real school of beauty." He made it his mission to show women from all walks of life on how to accentuate their unique beauty by using colors and shades that would best complement their complexions. Fine's talent and determination has taken him far from the department store makeup counter, making him one of today's most sought after makeup artists. His work has appeared on the covers and pages of Cosmopolitan, Harper's Bazaar, Essence, Vibe and Marie Claire. He was chosen as the first African-American spokesperson for Revlon and Covergirl cosmetics. Still, it was the experiences from his formative years selling makeup that inspired him to write his first how-to book, Fine Beauty: Beauty Basics and Beyond for African-American Women. As a follow-up to his best-selling book, he introduced his first instructional DVD, Fine: The Basics of Beauty as a continuation of his commitment to educate women of color on the "fine" art of makeup.

MALCOLM "MJ" HARRIS — Passing the Torch Award — is an internationally recognized financial services CEO and motivational success teacher who has consistently beaten the odds to achieve extraordinary success. Harris has built MJ Harris Enterprises, which started as an insurance agency at his dining room table, into a multi-national financial services and self-help content producer. Today, MJ Harris Enterprises oversees the operations of his various businesses, including the National Care Financial Group, which has become one of America's largest African-American-owned financial services firms. National Care is a premiere brokerage platform for more than 400 insurance agencies nationwide, seeking to reach the African-American and Hispanic markets with "top tier" financial products. His firm's clients include everyone from middle-class families to high-net-worth individuals; senior executives; corporations; leaders in the entertainment and creative industries; and foundations and endowments. In addition to financial services, MJ Harris Enterprises manages the production and distribution of Harris's premium financial and empowerment products and services across multiple content delivery platforms, including publishing and live events with both mobile and Web-based access points. He shares his secrets of success and financial freedom with global live audiences through his Wealth ClassTM seminar series, and his videos that are watched by more than 2 million people in 50 countries worldwide, weekly across multiple web-based platforms. He shared his truth with Oprah Winfrey during her "Life You Want" tour as well as featured in USA Today, Black Enterprise, Huffington Post, and Ebony magazine.

MARCUS WILSON-SMITH — Media Arts Award — is the Emmy award-winning dayside executive producer for KTLA-TV 5 News in Los Angeles, which is the #2 media market behind New York City. He currently oversees the KTLA 5 News at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 6 p.m. and 6:30 p. m. He previously served as producer on KTLA 5 News at 10 p.m. and 11 p.m., which is rated #1 and recently honored with the Golden Mike for Best Newscast by the Radio Television News Director Association of Southern California. Smith has won two Emmys awards since joining KTLA in 2010, both for Breaking News coverage of the Newtown shooting and the UCLA water main break. In 2010, Smith was named one of Frontiers Magazine's "Hot 25," that is, people making a difference in Southern California's LGBT community. He was also honored with an Image Award by the In The Meantime Men's group. Smith, a Chicago native, started his career in the television news industry at 12-years-old as an intern for a TV station in his hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was also a correspondent for the hit, Emmy award-winning youth news magazine "Making the Grade." He has worked in various television markets in such cities as Fort Myers, Miami and now Los Angeles.

MYA DOBSON — Business Leadership Award — is a partner of the Greater Pasadena office at New York Life. A President's Council agent, Million Dollar Round Table* ( MDRT ) qualifier, and a Centurion award winner, Dobson was promoted to recruiter in December 2014, just three years after joining the company. A shining star at New York Life, Dobson earned several of the company's most prestigious management awards in 2015 — that is, Top New Life Recruiter; View from the Top; Gathering of Eagles; and the Pacific Zone New Partner of the Year. Her growing unit of 20 agents collectively serves the African American, Hispanic, Asian, Women and LGBT markets. Accomplishing a feat many recruiters only dream about, she was tapped by Greater Pasadena Managing Partner Tigran Basmadjyan,ï CLF to open, build and lead the Century City Sales Office near Beverly Hills. "Mya is a principled leader and performance coach who inspires everyone," reflected Basmadjyan. "The level of success that she has attained in 19 months can only be attributed to her strong belief in herself. …" Dobson was a high school assistant principal before joining New York Life. She credits her love of teaching and learning as playing a crucial role in her successï at New York Life.

For more information about the Truth Awards and its honorees, visit


- Find Better Brothers LA on Facebook at .

- Follow Better Brothers LA on Twitter @bbrothersla .

- Follow Better Brothers LA on Instagram @BetterBrothersLA .


The DIVA Foundation — founded in 1990 by Tony-nominated actress and HIV/AIDS advocate Sheryl Lee Ralph — is a 501( c )3 non-profit organization, created as a living memorial to the many friends she lost to HIV/AIDS as an original cast member of the Broadway musical "Dreamgirls," and because of her concern for the threat HIV/AIDS posed to women and children. Over the years, the DIVA Foundation has worked to break the silence and erase the stigma still connected to HIV/AIDS and encourage people to get tested in order to know their HIV status.


Better Brothers Los Angeles ( BBLA ) was created to provide spaces for members of the Black LGBTQ community to network, socialize and be BETTER — at life, love and community. Developing a sense of community has been a challenge for some within our community, given the cultural and religious opposition to our orientation and gender identity. As those challenges have receded in mainstream society, they still present significant difficulties and sometimes constrain a healthy sense of well-being. Since our inception, BBLA has sponsored cultural, informational, recreational, and social/networking events. We continue to sponsor and create opportunities that increase community confidence and pride. Visit .

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