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    Posted September 25, 2007

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Tri-Union Ivy Bethune Diversity Awards

by Pat Loeb

A beautiful, balmy Los Angeles summer evening welcomed members of AEA, AFTRA and SAG's EEO committees as we celebrated the 5th annual Tri-Union Ivy Bethune Diversity Awards. Once again enjoying the hospitality at East West Players, the nation's preeminent Asian American theater organization, as the three unions joined to present this annual award to recognize and show appreciation for those who helped build a foundation for diversity in our industry.

This year's focus, "Bridge Builders," acknowledged those who reach out into the community to create opportunity and alternatives, sharing our common stories and celebrating our differences. These member-driven awards commend individuals and organizations that have taken an active stand to make a more representational, multicultural community in the performing arts and broadcasting. Those selected for this award have set a standard to which all should aspire, deliberately breaking down barriers and opening doors for those who follow, generating work for performers across a wider, cross-cultural base.

After a brief welcome by co-chairs Diana Elizabeth Jordan (SAG) and Pat Loeb (AEA), the evening was taken over by MC Michalea Perreira, the brilliant morning anchor for local news station KTLA.

Anomaly, a rock band composed of performers from Performing Arts Studio West, a professional training and production facility for Los Angeles area adults with developmental disabilities, kicked off with the ceremony with a Beatles medley in honor of SAG honoree Esai Morales, an avid Beatles fan.

Mr. Morales, a noted "actorvist", was honored for his tireless work to promote real, multi-dimensional and culturally accurate portrayals of Latinos, and among other things, co-founding the National Hispanic Foundation of the Arts. Mr. Morales sent a message discussing his commitment to diversity read by actress and friend Renee Victor.

Equity's honoree, Cornerstone Theatre, which features a unique style of multi-ethnic, ensemble-based performance, presented a scene from their recent work, Los Illegals. As their mission statement reads, "By making theater with and for people of many ages, cultures and levels of theatrical experience, Cornerstone builds bridges between and within diverse communities in our home city of Los Angeles and nationwide… We value the artist in everyone."

Guillermo Aviles-Rodriguez spoke eloquently of the impact Cornerstone had on his life, leading him from a more stereotypical street life to his current role as artistic director of the Watts Village Theater, in presenting the award to Cornerstone's Artistic Director Shashir Kupur and Managing Director Shay Wafer. Cornerstone, in turn, spoke of the challenges and rewards of working nontraditionally within union jurisdiction.

Jazz singer Sonya Maddox-Upchurch and legendary guitarist Phil Upchurch performed an original song in honor of AFTRA's honoree, Bay Area broadcast pioneer Belva Davis. Ms Davis spoke of the barriers she broke through as an African-American, female journalist and her commitment to those who followed. Her numerous awards and community commitments include her role as an AFTRA National Vice President and the National Chair of their EEO Committee. Ms Perreira commented on the inspiration she personally received from Ms Davis earlier in her career, remembering that for a long time that newscasters comprised a restricted job market.

Ronald Banks, recent star of East West Player's Sweeney Todd, sang "Music Of The Night," accompanied by Myrna Emata, in honor of Tony- and Emmy-award-winning performer and activist Robert Guillaume, who was the first African American Phantom of the Opera.

Presenter Ed Asner spoke with humor and heart about his years of friendship with Mr Guillaume, speaking of him as a brilliant actor and singer who has generously given of his time and talent to fostering nontraditional casting and supporting numerous organizations including TransAfrica, AmFar, Sickle Cell Disease Association of America and Artists for a New South Africa.

Mr Guillaume reminded everyone of the importance of bringing personal truth to every situation. "I think in terms of what my sense of truth is. It may not be the same as yours." He inspired the audience members to take responsibility for their work and make choices that show a full range of behavior rather than stereotypes.

The evening ended with hugs and fresh determinations by all the attendees to build our own bridges between our communities, energizing each of us to create new opportunities that challenge traditional ideas and offer more inclusive visions.

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