Keepers of the Dream honorees: Sylvia Rhone, Stevie Wonder

*On Wednesday, April 6, 2011, the Reverend Al Sharpton, founder & president, and Reverend Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, board chairman, respectively, National Action Network, Inc. welcomed President Barack Obama to the 20th anniversary of the founding of NAN and the 13th anniversary of Keepers of the Dream Awards Dinner at the Sheraton New York Hotel and Towers, New York City.

Referring to President Obama as the “Servant in Chief,” Rev. Sharpton brought him to the stage.  Pandemonium broke out!  This was definitely Obama territory and Rev. Sharpton, who has not always agreed with the president, made it crystal clear that he was in the President’s corner for 2012.  “We don’t have to agree with everything the President does, and we don’t,” Sharpton said.  “But we’re not confused.  This man has led.  This man, this President, has served us.”

The President spoke about all of the challenges he faces and how he’s trying to do his best to overcome and overhaul things for the American people.  However, he cautioned he was not perfect and that much hard work on racial and economic equality remains.  “We are going to keep fighting until every family gets a shot at the American dream,” said President Obama.  “That’s the first thing I think about when I wake up, the last thing I think about when I go to bed at night.”

Presenter Dominique Sharpton, honoree Phil Griffin, NAN's board chairman Rev. Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, honoree Jim Brown, honoree LaTanya Richardson Jackson, NAN's founder & president Rev. Al Sharpton, honoree Lee Saunders

The Keepers of the Dream Awards Dinner program resumed at the end of his speech with the evening’s newsworthy co-hosts, MSNBC’s Tamron Hall and Ed Schultz, picking up where the President left off.  Following an invocation and blessing by Rev. Michael Walrond that garnered thunderous applause, dinner was served.

Then NAN’s national director Tamika D. Mallory introduced a video presentation: “20 Years of Struggle, 20 Years of Progress, 20 Years of Shaping History,” followed by an inimitable keynote address by Dr. Bill Cosby in which he “told it!”

The Keepers of the Dream Awards were established to honor the legacy of one of the greatest men in history through the recognition of those who continue to promote the doctrines that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his life for, in their respective fields of work.  The awards are handed out annually to mark the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s death.

Recipients of the 2011 Keepers of the Dream Awards included Muhammad Ali; Samuel and Latanya R. Jackson, The Samuel and Latanya R. Jackson Foundation; Sylvia Rhone, president, Universal Motown; Phil Griffin, president MSNBC; Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Magic Johnson Enterprises; Lee Saunders, secretary-treasurer, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO; Lamell McMorris, founder, perennial strategy group, Perennial Sports and Entertainment, and Perennial Law Group; Jim Brown, NFL Hall of Famer, Amer-I-Can Foundation; and Pastor Ralph D. West, Church Without Walls.

The Keepers of the Dream Awards are the highlight of NAN’s annual convention which brings together between influential leaders in civil rights, government, business and media to focus on the issues most important in civil rights.

The challenges addressed at the four day event were education, healthcare, youth violence and social justice.  The dinner program ended with the signature singing of the powerful and empowering song “We Shall Overcome” sang with hands crossed over.  (Photos by Ronnie Wright)

Audrey J. Bernard is an established chronicler of Black society and Urban happenings based in the New York City area.