New York - December 1, 2016Last nightWednesday, November 30journalist, content creator and LGBT activist Emil Wilbekin hosted the inaugural Native Son Awards honoring Tony Award-winning director and playwright, George C. Wolfe; journalist and CNN Tonight Host, Don Lemon; and Black Lives Matter Activist DeRay Mckesson at The Cadillac House in New York City. The eventsponsored by Cadillac, Belvedere Red and HBOwas created by Wilbekin to honor the exemplary work of individuals changing the lives and landscape of the Black gay male experience.
"Tonight, we are here to celebrate us," said Wilbekin. "You all are the brain trust that will fuel what Native Son can be as we move forward. We have to be comfortable with who we are. We have to be comfortable to show up for ourselves and we have to be comfortable in our skin. And we have to be comfortable seeing each other and saying hello to each other. So tonight we're going to change the narrative. It is a new day." ( Continued below ).
In his keynote, Wilbekin discussed being inspired by the room filled with Black gay men walking in their truth, and underscored the importance of doing so. He remarked, "As a 49 year-old Black Gay Man who is HIV positive, it is clear to me that living my truth is power…and I am and continue to be inspired by all of you who walk in your truth. Our truth is our birthright." He continued, "No Black Gay Man deserves to live in shame or be relegated to the fringes anymore. We matter! Our stories are valid."
Later in the evening, Wilbekin himself was presented with the Native Son Award for his achievements in media and longstanding activism on behalf of LGBT issues and advocacy for showcasing greater and more diverse representations of black gay men in America.
In his remarks, honoree Don Lemon, stressed the importance of fellowship among Black gay males and how honored he was to be in the presence of the beginning of such a movement. He noted, "To be included in a group like this, to get the inaugural award and to be among the three who get the inaugural award is indeed an honor and I can't express how important it is and how humbled I am by it."
George C. Wolfe reflected on the power of words to move people and asked patrons to continue to be hopeful even in the midst of trepidation. "We're entering in an incredibly brutal period of history but we're Black and we're gay. We've faced severe rejection from people who we love, from our families, so we've gone through some very hard stuff. We have all of the muscles; we're not lacking one muscle at all. Whatever you do do it with force and a conviction that exists inside of you because you are a Black gay man and you have endured and it's important to remember this now more than ever."
Black Lives Matter activist, DeRay Mckessen, expressed his belief that Native Son is a starting point to creating a more just world. "Many of you tell our truth every day by just existing. There are more of us that believe in a just world than those who do not. The next President will be a real test of can we organize and I'm hopeful by the people here tonight, being ready to do the work that it would take to bring in the world that we know that we need and deserve."
The Native Son Awards is part of a larger, grassroots, multifaceted initiative, which will include national empowerment workshops and talks, networking events, influencer dinnersall with the mission of connecting those within the often under- and/or misrepresented community of Black gay men.
Guests in attendance at last night's awards dinner included: Billy Porter ( Tony Award-winning actor ), George Faison ( dancer/choreographer ), Charles Anthony Bryant ( singer, Hymnody ), Andre Singleton ( The Very Black Project ), Antoine Phillips ( Giorgio Armani ), Memsor Kamarake ( stylist, The Wendy Williams Show ), Rich Blint( James Baldwin Scholar ), Wardell Milan ( acclaimed visual artist ), Dustin Ross ( actor, commentator on The FriendZone podcast ), Andre Robert Lee ( filmmaker/producer ), Gordon Chambers ( singer/songwriter ), Jarrett Lucas ( executive director of Stonewall Community Foundation ), Andre Singleton ( The Very Black Project ), LaQuan Smith ( fashion designer ) and more. Music for the evening was curated by DJ, music journalist and producer Bill Coleman. In addition, Kevin Harry, Editor of KH Zine, photographed guests in an onsite Native Son portrait studio.
ABOUT NATIVE SON
Native Son is a movement that exemplifies the duality of being Black and gay in a society that often shuns and belittles their unique experiences. This movement aims to create a safe space where the black gay male community can fellowship, celebrate and empower each other, andmost importantlysee themselves. From the world-renowned to the up-and-coming, Native Son aims to connect and celebrate the members of this influential, yet long ignored community in the realms of arts, business, media, fashion, politics and healthcare. Forthcoming in 2017 will be the Native Son digital platforman extension of the World of Wilbekin sitewhich will further connect the community and highlight upcoming events, and initiatives.
To learn more about Native Son, please follow "Native Son Now" on Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat: @Native Son Now, and Facebook.