Words and Images by Terry Shropshire
This writer’s first introduction to the Steve Harvey Ford Neighborhood Awards (formerly the Hoodie Awards) was a startling site that inspired both pride and amusement. Lounging inside the Mandalay Bay Casino Resort and Hotel on the famous Strip in Las Vegas five years ago, I suddenly noticed a long river of urbanites, decked in all white, began trickling through the to the casino area to reach the rear where the convention center was located. Non-black tourists sitting at the bars and slot machines suddenly stopped and craned their necks almost in unison, looking on with cartoon-like amazement, some with their mouths agape when that trickle of white linen-cloaked partiers quickly mushroomed into a tidal wave of black humanity — first walking in by the dozens, then by the hundreds and finally by the thousands — who were making the trek to attend the Freedom Friday Party during the Steve Harvey Ford Neighborhood Awards weekend.
That’s when I and many other people realized Steve Harvey had captured something special, something unique … and huge. “It has become an amazingly popular vacation destination for our fans, with many events on the weekend leading up to the awards show,” said Rushion McDonald, co-creator of the Steve Harvey Neighborhood Awards. He put on the very first “Hoodie Awards,” a small and intimate affair in Houston, nearly 15 years ago. Terri Vaughn hosted that event and Tina Knowles was the winner of the first Best Beauty Salon awards. After putting the show on the back burner, he and Harvey brought the show back to life.
Remarkably, without overt advertising and no television exposure, the Steve Harvey Ford Neighborhood Awards weekend extravaganza has rocketed to the top as one of the most popular awards shows and weekend getaways in urban America. In excess of 10,000 African Americans have flooded the venues in previous years for the Freedom Fright party, the comedy shows, A-list concert performances, the expo and, of course the Neighborhood Awards. The thing that makes the Neighborhood Awards unique is that it is the only one of it’s kind on a national scale where the celebrities bestow awards to the real stars of the community — to the everyday man and woman — who don’t always receive the recognition they deserve.
The idea that members of the community would be the center and focus of an awards weekend caught on like wildfire across the country. And it attracted A-list partners to come aboard.
“Ford is a company that has a long-standing history with the community, which includes a deep relationship with the African American community. As part of our brand promise, we are committed to not only going further when it comes to our products, but also as it relates to our commitment to the community,” said Shawn Thompson, Ford manager, multicultural marketing. “Being a part of major events like the 2014 Ford Neighborhood Awards and allows us to drive deeper brand connections with multicultural consumers, while also giving back to the community.”
Celebrities also are excited to be a part of the extravaganza.
“I always look at doing the Neighborhood Awards as an act of service,” said singer Kem who promises to make it pop when he performs during the weekend. “And giving recognition to businesses and entrepreneurs in communities where they don’t necessarily get it on a regular basis. Steve has been a supporter of what I did and love him for that. So anytime he calls, I try to answer that call. Steve is doing great things from his platforms in order to give back. I consider it a blessing to be a part of it.”
Now with a change in name from the “Hoodie Awards” or “Hoodies” to “Neighborhood Awards,” comes a change of venue to arguably the largest and most successful collection of African Americans in the country, Atlanta. And while he expected support, McDonald admits he was pleasantly surprised at the depth and breadth of it.
“When we came to Atlanta, I’ll be perfectly honest, man, I didn’t expect the welcome mat that the city of Atlanta gave our event, man. Mayor Kasim Reed did a press conference with us on Feb. 6. The tourism board, the convention bureau, they put us on the cover of their magazine. We did a 2-year contract with all 12 of their downtown hotels of our choosing. We did multi-year contracts with Phillips Arena and the GWCC. I didn’t expect this.”
McDonald and Harvey should expect the Ford Neighborhood Awards weekend to take over the center of the city on Aug. 7 – 10.
The Freedom Friday party? … Sold Out.
The Freedom Friday after party? … Sold out.
The Stand Up Comedy Jam on Thursday? … Sold out.
The Stand Up Comedy Jam on Friday? … Sold out.
The Neighborhood Awards tickets? Going fast.
And then there are the performances from the likes of the aforementioned Kem along with Anthony Hamilton, Robin Thicke, Tamela Mann, Bell Biv Devoe, Chrisette Michelle and India.Arie.
During the Ford Neighborhood Awards, Harvey and McDonald are coming just as hard, bringing celebrity presenters to give out awards to the community winners including Shemar Moore, Kandi Burruss, Michael Ealy, Tracee Ellis Ross, Michael Jai White, and comedians Earthquake and Kim Whitley and so many others.
Is that all? Not even close. McDonald riddled off a dizzying array of activities that will take place throughout the weekend. There will be a TV Film Festivals where organizers will present four films. Inside the Expo hall, which will run for a full three days instead of just for four hours in previous years, there will be a a college expo inside the expo where students can register for college at elite schools like Harvard, Georgia Tech, Loyola Marymount and Marquette.
There will also be a Video Game Zone, a Celebrity Zone and a Radio Row where other radio show personalities will be posted up strong. Not to mention there will be a the information and uplifting seminars. There will be something on the social menu for every palate, McDonald promises.
“We want the weekend to become our version of the Comic Con,” McDonald said.