By Katrice L. Mines
Ask Xernona Clayton which Trumpet Awards ceremony has been her favorite over the past 20 years and she’ll tell you each one exceeds the last. And after a few moments of conversation with her, that sentiment will make sense as each thought she shares builds upon the previous one. Reaching … stretching herself to a new capacity is simply within her DNA. It’s the thread that makes everything she touches seamless. “It is amazing that we have a reach beyond what is an average height. But we don’t do enough of the stretching to go beyond it,” Clayton says. Profound, and the very inspiration behind The Trumpet Awards and Foundation. I sat down with the stalwart change-maker to see where it all began and what we can expect at the upcoming Awards on Jan. 25, 2014.
With 22 award ceremonies under your belt, how do you keep the excitement and crescendo of the brand?
Each year, we have a new set of honorees, and each honoree has his own level of success and achievement which gives us an added level of excitement. For example, we had Dr. Levi Watkins, who was a physician and it was he who invented that wonderful equipment called the defibrillator which is in every airport in the country. That means everybody who has a medical emergency with a heart ailment can use that equipment that he designed. Now, that excites you because everyone goes to the airport and you see that piece of equipment in the airport … and he was one of our honorees. That’s exciting. When I’m going through our honorees’ accolades and their achievements and successes, it’s infectious.
How long did you think about doing The Trumpet Awards before you initially launched it?
For years, I knew I wanted to do something because I had a longing from watching and hearing and seeing the less than dignified image of our people; We didn’t have positive imagery. I complained all the time, but so did everybody. It happens in our society — as human beings that we sit around and complain, but never do anything about it. So, I was as guilty as I was charging others. And I decided one day, I’ve got to do something because I’m tired of seeing that there’s a reservoir of talent out here … that untapped source of achievement and excellence, but racism and discrimination have done such great harm to our society that those people have been left out. And I remembered hearing in my head all the time, Dr. King used to say that he didn’t believe white people hated us just because they loved to hate. He said he imagined many of them hated us because they just didn’t know us; Because if they knew the kind of lives we were leading, the kind of support we were giving to our society, the kind of contributions we were making to enrich our society, they’d have respect and then perhaps, less hatred. And so he said we’ve got to do everything we can to keep them informed because we can change negative attitudes. So, I said to myself, a positive image will change attitudes. It was that kind of process that took place.
Each year, the honorees are always fitting and the perspective of the show — fresh. How do you stay ahead of the curve?
Ambassador Young is our best advocate. He says he thought he’d been everywhere, thought he’d met everybody, and he thought he knew everything but every time he comes to The Trumpet Awards, he meets somebody and learns something he didn’t know. And I think we look for that person whom you don’t know because there’s just so many out here. I run across them or meet them somewhere, or read about them. I look for those unusual people that we probably haven’t heard of, and find that they are a legitimate prospect for honoring. We know that that is intriguing. There’s so many untold stories out here, so many people of our culture and race who have been contributing unlike what’s been said: “I thought that all black people were lazy.” People believed that we didn’t want to contribute, just siphoning from the coffers and not putting anything back. They think that because that’s all they know. We don’t hear the stories that we’re trying to tell through The Trumpet Awards, so I just get excited every time I discover somebody who I think would have mass appeal.
What inspires you from day to day?
On an average day, I’m constantly amazed at people who kind of go beyond their reach and discover that they’ve got height and scope beyond the measurement. I’ll give you an example. One day, I was in a class where the instructor asked us to go to the wall and stand tall against it, and put our hand as far as it could go up. I didn’t realize that when I went over to the wall that most folk just walked over and put their hand up and marked where it ended up. I went over and I stretched on my tip toes, and the instructor used it as an example. He asked if anyone noticed that I went over there and tip-toed and went beyond my height. I’ve never forgotten that. And I use it — thinking, maybe we should do that every day — go beyond our reach. Just stretch and you’d be amazed at what you can find was a discovery beyond your normal reach.
Over the years, what ceremony impacted you the most? Why?
The last one. I say that about each one. I think it’s because you have it under your belt now, and you look at it and say, oh, that was pretty good. Then you start thinking, what can I do next time? And we start on next immediately by looking at what elements worked; I seriously consider the comments people make and what the public likes, and see if we can infuse it again.
Can you give us a teaser of what to expect in 2014?
You can expect more of the same and a little of the new. The same meaning, you’re going to laugh, you’re going to get spiritual and you’ll go deep because you’ll find out just from listening to the stories that people had it hard. Everybody thinks a discovery or a milestone is easy but people have trials and tribulations trying to get to the top. So, you’ll get the respect for perseverance and tenacity. You’re going to appreciate the fact that perhaps in your own life you’ve had a moment when you said, I just really want to give up. We have our moments of despair in our own lives regardless of what your life is like. And when you come and meet someone else who’s had some of the same emotional stresses but they kept on going, you’ll appreciate that keeping on going will pay off. So, you’ll have some of that in the next show, but we have it at every show. You’re going to get more of the same … but the same is good. And when it’s good, you can’t get too much of it.
Though, not about the Trumpet Awards directly, it’s certainly relative to reflect on the life of Nelson Mandela alongside the honors you’ve bestowed for great contributions of black communities around the world. Can you offer some words of reflection on Mr. Mandela?
I was so thrilled to have met him personally and spent some time with him, and we honored him as a Trumpet Awards recipient. Neither you nor I, perhaps, will have a State funeral where you’ll have 95 people of high rank who will come. And you probably won’t have eight days for people to celebrate. But what we can do with Nelson Mandela is look at his life and figure out why 95 Heads of state would want to come, why people would want to spend 10 days to revel in his life, why we want to write so much about him. This man spent all of his life trying to make things better for somebody else. Every period of his life was spent trying to make things better. I looked at that funeral yesterday and said, “You know that’s kind of what I wanted to do.” And I woke up this morning with a new verve that I’m going to. I think I have had the spirit that I want to do something for somebody else, but I woke up this morning thinking that I want to pull from his life. If I live the kind of life he led, some of it will pay off. I’d hate to think that I’d leave here and have people say that all she did was occupy space and didn’t do anything.
What is your secret to remaining so vibrant and youthful in your own great work?
I really am free of negative promotion. I don’t pass on ugly stuff about people. I don’t even want to hear ugly stuff about people. That doesn’t mean I’m successful because I do hear it. But, it pains me to see people run folk down and talk negatively about people … try to kill their spirit, kill their joy, kill their reputation. I am free of the desire for ever wanting to do that. The converse of that is the reason I do The Trumpet Awards — I have to read these people’s bios and you know what’s it’s like to read those stories over and over again; I’m overjoyed every time I reread them because I’m reading about someone who’s done something positive. I’m positive oriented and I wish the whole world could be positive. I know that’s not realistic but I can live my part of the world in a way that fits me and my fit is that I have a healthy attitude toward people. And I think it makes me feel good and I try to act good in the process.
The Trumpet Awards Foundation presents the 22nd Annual Trumpet Awards, a milestone feat that pays tribute to a group of history-making honorees who are slated to receive the 2014 esteemed Trumpet Award. The honorees join a list of some of the most celebrated personalities in this nation and abroad. The 22nd Annual Trumpet Awards black-tie ceremony will be hosted by Melissa De Sousa, known for her performances in The Best Man, The Best Man Holiday, and The Ron Clark Story; and Laz Alonso, known for his starring performances in Fast and the Furious, Jump the Broom, and is soon to be seen in a lead role in Sony Screen Gems’ Battle of the Year. The Trumpet Awards show will be held at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre in Atlanta on Saturday, January 25, 2014, with the Red Carpet at 2:00 p.m. and the Awards Show taping at 4:00 p.m.