Written by | Ray Cornelius 

RC was in the building last night for Clark Atlanta University’s 9th Annual Spirit of Greatness Gala. Yours truly was there for an exclusive interview with “black-ish” creator and honoree Kenya Barris and served as the evening’s red carpet correspondent for CAU-TV.

The black-tie affair was held at the beautiful Omni Hotel in downtown Atlanta and was presented by CAU and the Clark Atlanta University Alumni Association, Inc.  It is also the university’s biggest fundraising event and recognizes alumni and pioneers who are making a positive impact around the nation.

The Spirit of Greatness Gala Honorees

Other honorees included former First Lady of CAU and Fulton County Sate Court Senior Judge The Honorable Brenda Hill Cole; world renowned photographer Horace Henry,  12-time Emmy winning photojournalist Anthony White; VP of Corporate Development for Abbott Laboratories Al B. Reid; and Owner and President of Wade Ford Steve Ewing.

 CAU President Ronald A. Johnson with Kenya Barris and his sons, Beau & Kass

Barris, who graduated from CAU in 1996, has worked in Hollywood on a number of highly successful television series before landing “black-ish” including “Soul Food,” “Are We There Yet,” “Girlfriends,” “The Game,” and “America’s Next Top Model” with his cousin and fashion icon Tyra Banks. He was accompanied by his sons—Beau and Kass—and praises them for being the inspiration behind a lot of what he does. He also credits his alma mater for laying the foundation upon which he has built much of his television and film success.

Kenya Barris during pre-gala press conference

“I didn’t imagine any of this. It was something in the water at Clark at that time and I felt like we were a really, really blessed group of people to be here in Atlanta,” said Barris during the pre-gala press conference.

“We saw the Olympics come and this changing of the guard as black people. It was like being in New York City in the early 80s and getting into the art scene at the time of Keith Haring and Basquiat. We really got a chance to be a part of Dallas Austin and Jermaine Dupri. The music scene was happening and things were really happening in terms of film and TV.  It really was a special time in the city and I’m really glad that I got a chance to be a part of that.”

Honoree Horace Henry with CAU National Alumni President Marshall Taggart and CAU President Ronald A. Johnson

Class of ‘ 71 honoree Horace Henry was really excited to be recognized for his career as a photographer and historian for the city of Atlanta. The Palmetto, GA native attended the university when it was known then as Clark College and began taking photos as a hobby. However, it was a chance encounter in 1969 that forever changed his life. He attended the first Ecumenical Service for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that was spearheaded by King’s widow, Coretta Scott King and took photos that would later be known as “One Day in January.” The historic photos are now part of the permanent collection of images at the new Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Howard Hewett

Other evening highlights included the intimate musical set by R&B icon Howard Hewett. The former lead singer of the 80s group, Shalamar wooed the audience with his “in your face” performance of such iconic songs as “Im for Real,” “A Night to Remember,” “Make that Move,” “For the Lover In You,”  “Second Time Around” and his gospel classic “Say Amen.”

Check out more photos from the gala below and stay close to RC for more stories from Kenya Barris on his new film “Girls Trip” and why laughter is good for the soul:

Honorees Anthony White and Kenya Barris 

The Spirit of Greatness Awards 

Attendees could bid on auction items including

Michael Jackson‘s sheet music from “Billie Jean”

CAU National Alumni President Marshall Taggart, honoree The Honorable Brenda Hill Cole, President Ronald A. Johnson and First Lady Irene Johnson

Honoree Al B. Reid with Marshall Taggart as well as

President Ronald A. Johnson and First Lady Irene Johnson

Howard Hewett singing and dancing with a gala patron

The Spirit of Greatness Gala

Howard Hewett literally performed his set in the audience

Honoree Steve Ewing 

Honoree Anthony White during his emotional acceptance speech

Ray Cornelius with Kenya Barris 

Photo Credits: RayCornelius.com