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At Ebony Power 100 gala, performers praise expanded visibility this year and look for more

Honoree Cicely Tyson addresses the audience at the 2016 EBONY Power 100 Gala at the Beverly Hilton on Thursday.
(Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

Cicely Tyson took home a lifetime achievement award from Ebony’s Power 100 gala Thursday night, but not before receiving two standing ovations and demanding that the audience rise one more time mid-speech to honor the magazine’s late founder, John H. Johnson.

Recounting a memory of Johnson, Tyson was overcome with emotion.

“To say that I am indebted to him and what he’s done for me personally and for all of us … is indelible,” she said. “Like our host [Cedric the Entertainer] said, we need someone to show us who we are, what we are, and what we can be. And so I’m grateful. Stand up. Stand up!”

For the fifth consecutive year, Ebony magazine honored 100 black professionals, entertainers and civic leaders at its annual banquet.

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The private event at the Beverly Hilton Hotel was sponsored by Nationwide and honored “doers, risk takers and makers” as varied as HBO’s “Insecure” creator Issa Rae, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and late “PBS NewsHour” journalist Gwen Ifill. Music producer Nile Rodgers was awarded the Ebony Icon award; Disney’s Skai Jackson received a Future Achievers award; and funk band Earth, Wind & Fire took home a lifetime achievement award.

Other honorees not in attendance included Beyoncé, Colin Kaepernick, Kevin Hart, Serena Williams, Solange Knowles, Chance the Rapper, John Legend and Ava DuVernay.

Throughout the night, Cedric the Entertainer broke up his hosting duties with the latest (and sometimes outdated) “hood news” of the evening, ranging from rapper Kodak Black’s release from prison to reality stars Rob Kardashian and Blac Chyna’s baby news. He also alluded heavily to the event’s sponsor, singing improvised riffs on the brand’s slogan and insisting, “I’m selling these, man. Nationwide is going to buy one of these jingles from me tonight!”

On the red carpet, television stars such as Rae, “The Real” co-host Loni Love and members of OWN’s “Queen Sugar” cast were effusive in their praise for fellow TV creators and honorees.

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“To be on air at the same time in history [as Donald Glover’s ‘Atlanta] is exciting,” said Omar Dorsey of “Queen Sugar.” “There’s been a new direction in television, and I’m proud to be on TV right now as an actor and also proud to be an audience member.”

“What Donald Glover is doing with ‘Atlanta,’ it really shows you what happens when you let other people into the room,” said Love. “I just have to give it up to FX for allowing him [artistic control over] his own masterpiece, and you’re seeing the same thing with ‘Insecure’ on HBO, when you allow an artist to actually be himself and speak from the heart. That’s what we need. That’s why we’re all connecting.”

Rae, in particular, poignantly captured the intersectionality of the push for more diversity and the need for voices that are still absent onscreen.

“I think there are more Afro-Caribbean stories to tell, African stories to tell,” she said. “There are so many things in the black experience that we haven’t touched on, [but also] I’d love to see more Asian stories, more Native American stories, more Latino stories. I think we have a long way to go in terms of diversity and inclusive television.”

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The writer, actress, and author later got a huge laugh from the crowd when she accepted her award directly after Tyson.

“I’d just like to say a selfish prayer for the Lord to sustain my melanin for as long as he has for Cicely Tyson,” Rae quipped.

Rodgers brought down the house with his band Chic, performing crowd-pleasers such as “Everybody Dance” and “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah).” Lion Babe delivered a pitch-perfect performance of three songs from the duo’s latest album, “Begin.”

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And, embodying the event’s essence, Tyson ended her acceptance speech with a powerful recitation of Langston Hughes’ poem “Mother to Son.”

“Don’t you fall now, for I’se still goin’, honey,” Tyson recited from memory. “I’se still climbin’, and life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

sonaiya.kelley@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @sonaiyak


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