Austinites are in for a major treat as The Black Excellence Tribute returns for its third year, with an all-star lineup of poets, performers, artists and more at Austin’s AISD Performing Arts Center Saturday, February 18.
This community celebration came about as the brainchild of two-time Super Bowl Champion, Aaron Ross and four-time Olympic Gold Medalist Sanya Richards-Ross and celebrates the contributions to the community.
“Three years ago, my husband and I were sitting in the movie room and just reflecting on how blessed we’ve been and just really wanting to do something in the Austin community to give back,” Richards-Ross explained. “It was really small the first year, we pulled it together really quickly and we just wanted to prove the concept and see if people would be interested in something like it, and we had a pretty good turnout the first year, but the second year kind of blew our minds. There’s definitely an appetite for events like this, where we celebrate and honor people of color who are doing great things in our communities and around the country.”
The first year’s event took place on the University of Texas campus with a modest but passionate audience not entirely sure what to expect. The night was an immense success, leaving Austin’s black community hungry for more. Word quickly spread of the elegant evening, and turnout for the 2016 tribute at the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs Headquarters was the proof.
“Our second year, we had over 400 people in The Mansion, and I think if we could have fit more people we would have had a bigger turnout and that’s why we opted for a bigger venue this year,” Richards-Ross exclaimed. “It was just awesome to see the community come out in droves to support the local artists. One of the other missions of the event is to support local artis, poets and musicians and this year we’re actually going to have artists with their work there to show guests.”
Each year, the Black Excellence Tribute has been used to raise funds to benefit the black community directly, including helping families that have been directly affected by police brutality. This year, proceeds from the event benefit the Gold Standard Foundation, a 501c3 non-profit organization that seeks to continue its mission to educate, empower and enable at-risk youth to excel in academics and athletics. This all comes as the fruit of hard work within the Austin community.
“I do understand, and we’re very delicate about the fact that a lot of times the people who would want to give, can’t give,” Richards-Ross explained. “We have lots of people who are volunteering their time and people who send us things in kind that’s also very valuable. It’s not as easy to knock on doors and get $20,000 or $30,000 or $15,000. A lot of times, I don’t think it’s because people don’t want to give, I think it’s because [they] can’t give. I think people believe in what we’re doing, and want to support us, so many people that we’ve worked with in the past are reaching in their pockets to make more donations possible. So I wouldn’t say it’s easy, but I wouldn’t say it’s hard either but I don’t like things that are easy — I like to work hard. I think anything that is worth having in life takes a little bit of effort.”
This year’s political climate definitely seems to place the Black Excellence Tribute atop a tense canvas, but Sanya is confident that things will play out perfectly because of the strength and dedication of the community.
“I definitely feel that this is a unique political atmosphere in many ways,” she elaborated. “I do think that it is important for us to have events like this, and I don’t really think it matters who our president is — I think it’s important for us to have events like this no matter what. Trump is our president, and it’s time for us to move on as a country and support, but also figure out where we fit in and how we can move forward together, unified. So I think it’s a perfect time for event like this, and hopefully there’ll be more of these around the country.”
This year’s lineup will see the return of poets such as Prentice Powell, Tree G, Natori Blue and Ernestine Johnson alongside many new performers including Brandon Thornton and the night will be capped off with a keynote address from David Banner. Banner is known throughout the hip-hop community as an immense lyrical force, as seen throughout his discography, and he has continued to use his voice to move people through taking to social activism.
Despite having seen such great success so far, the Rosses aren’t resting on their laurels anytime soon. Being able to bring the likes of Dr. Umar Johnson, AJ McQueen and Dee-1 has shown the duo how bright the future can be. It seems that the goal is to enhance the community and foster a conversation that promotes growth.
“I have big dreams for this event,” Richards-Ross chimed. “One of the things I hope to be able to do in the future is to bring in some really great thought-leaders and one of the things we’ve discussed is possibly having a panel before the event to where we can discuss politics or finances or technology and other things that are important to our community, but of course we just need the right people to come in. I also hope that we can raise enough money that we can give out scholarships.”
Tickets for The Black Excellence Tribute are available online now.