The “Where Are the Voices” Roundtable Discussion on Advocacy in Entertainment featuring from left to right, Kimberley Elise, Aaron D. Spears, Elise Neal, Rev. Omarosa Manigault, and moderator Jasiri X (Photo by Thomas Reynolds)
Do Black Celebrities Have A Duty To Speak Out? Certainly Mr. Belafonte thinks so. In the above video he calls the silence of many of our most talented and successful celebrities, “patriotic treason”. And it was his passionate speech at the NAACP Image Awards that was the catalyst for the NAACP’s Leadership 500 Conference discussion on advocacy in entertainment.
Thankfully the incredible actors the NAACP brought together all felt a responsibility to give back to our community. Kimberly Elise, the actress best known for her roles in Beloved, Diary of a Mad Black Woman, and Set It Off, said being a celebrity is a privilege that comes with an obligation to help our people. Actress Elise Neal, who recently made a guest appearance on the hit TV show Scandal, personally reached out to St Jude’s Hospital in her hometown of Memphis, to become a celebrity ambassador.
Aaron D. Spears, who stars on the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” spoke about how celebrities can use social media to advocate for causes, but needed to make sure they were on point or they could do more harm than good. He mentioned the recent backlash to the lyrics of Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, as an example of celebrities needing to think before they speak. Omarosa, surprisingly to me, does a lot of work on Skid Row in Los Angeles, advocating for and feeding the homeless. She spoke about how she witnessed celebrities recoil in fear when dealing with our people who happen to be in a worse condition. She said if you didn’t have the spirit to serve before you became a celebrity, you won’t after you become famous.
But, does philanthropy and giving back equal activism? I asked the panel about the outspokenness of actor Jamie Foxx around the issue of Trayvon Matin. Foxx, who was deeply impacted by Harry Belafonte’s speech, has stood up for the Martin family, even though the case is racially polarizing. All of the actors on the panel spoke to the need to speak up for truth, even though it may cost them some fans. I’m hoping more celebrities begin to speak out and end their silence and “treason”.