UPDATED February 13: In breaking news released by BET on Feb. 16, Gabrielle Union-Wade and Dwyane Wade, known for their philanthropic efforts in support of organizations that provide healthcare for the LGBTQ community, will receive the prestigious President’s Award during the 54th NAACP Image Awards. The program will air Feb. 25 on BET at 8 p.m. with additional winners being announced. The President’s Award is presented in recognition of special achievement and distinguished public service, with previous recipients including Rihanna, LeBron James, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, Muhammad Ali, Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter, Lauryn Hill and Soledad O’Brien. 

“We’re thrilled to present this award to [two people] who together have consistently utilized their platforms to advance social justice and raise awareness to the inequalities existing in our country,” said Derrick Johnson, president/CEO, NAACP. “We’re proud to recognize the couple’s tireless humanitarian work as they continue to advocate for equality and acceptance for all.”

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After spending just a few minutes with Karen Boykin-Towns, it’s easy to see why she has established a reputation as a visionary, an engineer in securing strategic results and a leader determined to evoke positive change. 

In fact, she has easily transitioned from an award-winning career at Fortune 50 global biopharmaceutical company, Pfizer, to leading the battle cry for civil rights and social justice issues for the NAACP – one of the nation’s best in securing equal rights for all Americans. 

“When you review history and consider the challenges we’re facing today, to know that I am involved and have a seat at the table, helping to direct our organization, I feel very privileged,” she said. “I still have to pinch myself sometimes because it’s a real responsibility – one which I do not take lightly.” 

“But it’s a joint effort with our president and CEO, Derrick Johnson, and chairman of the board, Leon Russell, along with our 64-member board. We make sure we don’t spread ourselves too thin,” she noted. 

“Our communities have issues and our issues have issues. Still, we have to be effective in mobilizing our 2,200 units across the country as they engage in the fight so we can increase our impact nationwide.” 

“Over the last few years, we’ve turned the corner and now have financial stability, allowing us to make investments in local units and state conferences – helping them with infrastructure and providing them with the tools they need to be effective freedom fighters. We’re showing up in places where we should be and where we have not been before, bringing the message of advocacy and addressing issues of concern.”

“Youth serve as an essential part of our success – young people who have taken an interest in the NAACP as a platform and vehicle of change where they can see themselves as leaders. Collectively, veterans and fledglings, we’re showing up with a voice that’s both heard and taken seriously. The result is that change is occurring,” Boykin-Towns said. 

A New and Improved Image Awards – 54 Years Later 

Boykin-Towns takes pride in discussing the evolution of the NAACP Image Awards, which returns live after the pandemic shutdown on February 25 (8 p.m.), airing on BET and simulcast on CBS, that will “allow for a broader viewership and a show that you don’t want to miss.” 

“We’ve expanded into new categories, now more than 60, that include film, television and streaming music, literature, podcasts and for the first time, costume design, make-up and hairstyling,” she said. “But we’ve recognized the importance of addressing inequities in Hollywood and the industry, utilizing the power of Black entertainment, since the release of “The Birth of a Nation” (1915). 

“The NAACP’s Hollywood Bureau, now celebrating 20 years in its role as an extension of our organization’s tradition of social advocacy, routinely meets with studios, networks, entertainment executives and unions to ensure a more inclusive industry and reflective content. Films that have followed the blueprint of “The Birth of a Nation” presented images that portrayed Blacks in a negative and offensive light. Since then, the NAACP, after seeing similar images, has galvanized our troops and demanded that such films be banned.”

“What’s on the screen depicts how people see and treat us. That’s why it’s important to uplift those projects, actors and musicians who are creating positive work – stories that are as diverse in content as we are as a community. The Image Awards serves as a platform for us to celebrate our stories and to honor Black excellence at its best,” she said. 

And a ‘Youth’ Shall Lead Them

Among her responsibilities, Boykin-Towns guides efforts to launch a pipeline of programs that help youth find their voice and develop their skills. Youth as young as 9 have joined the NAACP’s youth division while older young people have found opportunities in the organization’s college division. 

“We recognize the importance of allowing youth to learn the issues that Black Americans continue to face,” she said. “But more important, we must provide training so that they can learn to be strategic in their thinking. For example, we launched the Next Generation Program six years ago after hearing that most people think about the NAACP as ‘their grandmother’s group.’”

“We had to fill the void and bring in talent for those 25 to 40 years old – a cadre of talented men and women eager to take on the issues that have long remained on the agenda of the NAACP but which require younger soldiers to continue the fight.”

“We’re an intergenerational organization whose youth have gone on to become leaders in our local branches and state conferences. Some have even gone on to serve as the mayors of their hometowns. In all our programs and initiatives, the goal remains to help members of our community excel, to rise to the top and to secure opportunities that allow them to pursue and achieve their dreams,” she said. 


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