(L to R) 2011 McDonald’s 365Black Awards Honorees; civil rights “Freedom Rider” and McDonald’s owner/operator Henry “Hank” Thomas, Radio One network founder Cathy Hughes, multi-platinum recording artist Mary J. Blige, legendary Broadway actress Ruby Dee and NAACP's president & CEO Benjamin Jealous, pose for photos on red carpet.

*In 2003, McDonald’s developed the 365Black Awards to annually recognize individuals who make significant contributions to the African American community. The awards program is an extension of the company’s 365Black marketing campaign which recognizes and celebrates African American culture, history and achievements all year round.

McDonald’s supports and encourages ongoing investment in the growth, development and success of the African American community at large. The 365Black Awards honorees have included African American living legends whose lives and life work demonstrate what it means to be “deeply rooted in the community.”

Continuing its long-standing support and connection to the African-American community, McDonald’s recognized a distinguished list of five prominent African-Americans who influence and inspire greatness through outstanding community service at the 2011 365Black Awards.

This year’s 365Black Awards was co-hosted by nationally syndicated radio personality Tom Joyner and Academy Award nominated actress Angela Bassett and took place Friday, July 1, 2011 at 12:30 p.m. in New Orleans, La., at the start of the Essence Music Festival weekend.

The 2011 365Black Awards honorees are multi-platinum recording artist Mary J. Blige, Oscar nominated and Grammy Award winning actress Ruby Dee, Radio One network founder Cathy Hughes, NAACPâ president and CEO Benjamin Jealous, and civil rights activist and McDonald’s owner/operator Henry “Hank” Thomas.

This year’s honorees join an elite group of past award recipients, including Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Marian Wright Edelman, Essence magazine president Michelle Ebanks, educator Dr. Johnnetta B. Cole, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien and NBA legend Alonzo Mourning. Awards show co-host Tom Joyner was one of the first recipients of the 365Black Awards, which exemplify outstanding community service.

“Our 365Black Awards honorees define true leadership in our community, from Ruby Dee’s trail blazing career as an actress to the civil rights crusades led by Hank Thomas; from the media empire created by Cathy Hughes to the leadership that Benjamin Jealous brings to the NAACP, our honorees inspire all Americans to give back in some unique way,” said Neil Golden, chief marketing officer, McDonald’s USA.

“Through her organization FFAWN, the Foundation for Advancement of Women Now, Mary J. Blige continues to invest in the future of young women and gives them the confidence they need to succeed,” Golden added, noting that McDonald’s is also supporting FFAWN through a charitable contribut

“At this year’s 365Black Awards, we celebrate not only our distinguished honorees but all that makes the Crescent City truly amazing — such as the culture, the cuisine and the courage it has taken to rebuild New Orleans,” said Rob Jackson, director of U.S. marketing, McDonald’s USA.  “The Fleur De Lis has become a popular, multi-cultural symbol of the rich history of New Orleans, just as McDonald’s 365Black Awards symbolize our long-standing support and commitment to the African American community.”

McDonald’s USA’s Robert Jackson (2nd right) presents check for $40,000 to Mary J. Blige and Steve Stoute for FFAWN with National Black McDonald’s Operators Association (NBMOA) Chair and CEO Roland Parrish and McDonald’s owner/operator Mary Gillis.

Mary J. Blige is a singer-songwriter, record producer, actress and winner of ten Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards.  Since her 1992 debut, What’s The 411?, Blige has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide.  Among her many accolades, Blige can claim eight multi-platinum albums, nine Grammy Awards (she has been nominated for a staggering 29) and four American Music Awards.

Blige is the co-founder of the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN), whose mission is to empower women from all walks of life to reach their full individual potential.  Her next album, My Life Too…The Journey Continues will be released September 20, 2011.

Ruby Dee is an actress, author and producer who grew up in Harlem and began her career as a member of the American Negro Theatre.  Recent roles have been in American Gangster for which she was nominated for an Academy Award, with Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe; in Steam with Ally Sheedy; and in Naming Number 2, for which she won a New Zealand Screen Award.

In 1988, Dee was inducted into the Theatre Hall of Fame and with her late husband, Ossie Davis, inducted into the NAACP Image Award Hall of Fame.  She has received several Emmy nominations, and in 1991, won an Emmy for her performance in Decoration Day.

She has received the Silver Circle Award by the Academy of Television Arts and Science, the National Medal of Arts Award, and the Screen Actors Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award.  In December 2004, Dee and Davis were recipients of the John F. Kennedy Center Honors.

She is also the author of two children’s books and My One Good Nerve, a book of poetry and short stories (which she has adapted into a solo performance piece).  In 2007, she and her late husband received a Grammy Award for the audio book of their joint autobiography, With Ossie & Ruby: In This Life Together.

Cathy Hughes is the founder of Radio One, Inc.  Celebrating its 30th anniversary, Radio One is the largest African-American owned and operated media corporation in the United States with 53 radio stations located in 16 urban markets in the United States.  It is also the parent corporation of TV One and Reach Media, home of the Tom Joyner Morning Show and Syndication One, home of Reverend Al Sharpton, Russ Parr, Ricky Smiley and Yolanda Adams.

Hughes served as the chief executive officer of Radio One Inc. from 1980 until 1997.  She has held various positions for Radio One including president, general manager, and talk show host since 1980.  She began her career in radio as vice president and general manager of WHUR-FM, the Howard University-owned, and urban-contemporary radio station.

She is currently chairperson of the Radio One board of directors and also serves on the TV One board.  She is the chairperson of the Small Business Administration’s Advisory council on Underserved Communities and serves on the board of BMI, Piney Woods Country Life School and the Wal-Mart External Advisory Council.

Benjamin Jealous is the 17th president and chief executive officer of the NAACP and the youngest person to hold the position in the organization’s nearly 100-year history.  During his career, he has served as president of the Rosenberg Foundation, director of the U.S. Human Rights Program at Amnesty International and served as executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), a federation of more than 200 black community newspapers.

From his early days of organizing voter registration drives up until his nomination and election as NAACP president, Jealous has been motivated by civic duty and a constant need to improve the lives of America’s underrepresented.

Henry “Hank” Thomas is one of four surviving members of the thirteen original “Freedom Riders,” the heroic civil rights activists who traveled throughout the South on Greyhound buses in 1961 protesting segregated facilities at bus stations along the way.

Today, Thomas is vice president of the Hayon, Inc. Group, which owns and operates three McDonald’s Restaurants in the Atlanta area.  Thomas serves on the board of trustees of Morehouse Medical School (Atlanta) and Talladega College (Talladega, AL).

He has established scholarship funds at the Piney Woods Boarding School, Howard University and Morehouse School of Medicine.   He is also a Vietnam War veteran, having received a Purple Heart, a life member of the NAACP, an active fundraiser for the UNCF and a retired member of the 100 Black Men of DeKalb County.  In 2011, Hank was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.

In addition to receiving her much deserved honor, Robert Jackson, director of African American consumer marketing, McDonald’s USA, presented a check for $40,000 to Foundation For the Advancement of Women Now (FFAWN) co-founders Blige and record producer Steve Stoute, in recognition of their significant contributions to the African American community year round.

The 365Black Awards lunch event began with a second line processional began with a razzle-dazzle red carpet ceremony led by the lively Rebirth Brass Band presenting McDonald’s African American Consumer Market Committee Chair and McDonald’s owner/operator Margaret “Marty” Gillis all dressed up in Mardi Gras garb in McDonald’s yellow and red colors replete with an umbrella.  Marty’s moves were quite impressive.  I overheard Marty laughingly telling some of her co owners/operators that “you owe me big time for this!”

The room was beautifully decorated in McDonald’s bright red and yellow colors including tablecloths, napkins, chairs, etc.  Atop each red table were striking red and yellow floral arrangements.  Behind each chair were fancy Mardi Gras masks and gift bags filled with McDonald giveaways.  As guests took their seats, co-hosts Tom Joyner and Angela Bassett welcomed everyone to the festive event to thunderous applause.

Then Bishop Hezekiah Walker got things off on a glorious note.  In addition to remarks by Gillis and Jackson, other colorful comments were made by Bettina Roberts, vice president & general manager, McDonald’s Great Southern Region; Neil Golden, chief marketing officer, McDonald’s USA.

One of the most moving moments of the program was a special video salute to the life and accomplishments of “one of their own,” beloved McDonald’s owner Lee Dunham.  Referred to as “The Man with the Master Plan,” Dunham transitioned earlier this year.  In a tribute to Dunham, McDonald’s owners/operators explained how much he’ll be missed. . . “A great friend who will forever be a member of our team.”  He will be missed.”

During the awards program, presenting participants included Greg Watson, vice president, menu & nutrition strategy/stakeholder engagement, McDonald’s USA; Pat Harris, global chief diversity officer, McDonald’s Corporation; James Collins, vice president & general manager, McDonald’s Florida Region; Sharlene Smith, QSC vice president, McDonald’s Great Southern Region; and Harry Coaxum, vice president & general manager, McDonald’s Atlanta Region.

At the close of the program, guests walked over to the floor of the Convention Center to the popular McDonald’s booth to tastefully participate in the introduction of its new smoothies and to meet McDonald’s Men of McCafé Casting Call winners: Harold Burnett II of Dover, DE, Phil Solomon of Brunswick, NJ, Maurice Lee of Orangeburg, Billy Walker of Southaven, MS, and Lucas Boyd of Orlando, FL.  The McDonald’s Men of McCafé Casting Call is a national search conducted to identify five community service-oriented men who are “making a difference” in the African American community.

McDonald’s USA, LLC, is the leading foodservice provider in the United States serving a variety of wholesome foods made from quality ingredients to more than 26 million customers every day.  Nearly 90 percent of McDonald’s 14,000 U.S. restaurants are independently owned and operated by local business men and women.  Customers can now log online for free at any of the 11,000 participating Wi-Fi enabled McDonald’s U.S. restaurants.

For more information, visit www.mcdonalds.com, or follow McDonalds on Twitter (@McDonalds) and Facebook (Facebook.com/McDonalds) for updates on our business, promotions and products.  McDonald’s outreach under the 365Black Awards platform includes the web site www.mcdonalds.com/365black, as well as alliances with organizations that provide opportunities for African Americans to succeed.  #EMFJUNKET11  (Photos by Chris Mitchell/CME3000)

Men of McCafé Casting Call winners Harold Burnett II, Phil Solomon, Maurice Lee, Billy Walker and Lucas Boyd make their first official public appearance as Men of McCafé along with Men of McCafé Celebrity Ambassadors Hosea Chanchez, Lamann Rucker and Lance Gross.