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    Posted August 5, 2009

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8th Annual Ivy Bethune Tri-Union Diversity Awards Celebrate Community

by Pat Loeb

Los Angeles, June 29

The courage of a dreamer / The innocence of youth
The failures and the foolishness / that lead us to the truth

The hopes that make us happy / The hopes that don't come true
And all the love that ever was - / I see this all in you

You are part - Part of the Human heart
The Human Heart - Once On This Island (Ahrens/Flaherty)

Honorees Charlie Hill (SAG), Dr Victoria Ann Lewis (AEA), Ivy Bethune, Cheryl Burke (AFTRA) and George Takei (Tri-Union)

On a warm summer evening, the 8th Ivy Bethune Tri-Union Diversity Awards played to a packed house at East West Players in Downtown Los Angeles. The evening was a rousing success, celebrating community, tri-union solidarity and our responsibility as artists to impact society, This year's theme, Storytellers, was well represented by the respective unions' nominees: Dr Victoria Ann Lewis (AEA), Cheryl Burke (AFTRA), Charlie Hill (SAG) and George Takei (Tri-Union).

Opening with an invocation by Mylo Ironbear of the Spirit Lake tribe, who reminded us that we are the Storytellers and our job is to tell our stories in order to change the world, the theme was reinforced by performers, honorees and presenters alike throughout the evening that we are a community given the power and responsibility to create the needed change.

After a brief overview by MC Jason George, the ceremony began with a powerful scene from the recent Blue Zone production of WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, performed by Ann Stocking and Jack Patterson. Blue Zone is the first theater company produced by, for and with disabled artists, and these two actors demonstrated clearly that talent has no limitations.

Western Regional Director Mary Lou Westerfield with presenter (and past honoree) Robert David Hall and AEA honoree Dr Victoria Ann Lewis

Former Ivy Awardee Robert David Hall's eloquent introduction of Dr Lewis - a disabled performer who, among her many credits, established the "Other Voices" lab at the Mark Taper, affording writers and performers with disability access and opportunity - spoke of her fire to initiate change and make the world a fairer place. Dr Lewis, in turn, shared her vision of our industry reflecting the true American scene, where anyone with a story to tell is not ashamed to share it. "We are not alone," she said. "We have community."

Stand-up Larry Omaha followed with a delightful set of jokes and heartfelt complements, sharing how, as a child, seeing articulate and funny Native American humorist Charlie Hill on Johnny Carson inspired him to follow his own dreams. Co-presenter Saginaw Grant reported that Charlie Hill broke barriers because of his ability to laugh with himself, while Arigon Starr talked of his commitment to the power of humor to heal the world and to be of service to the community.

Charlie Hill, whose ranks Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor among his mentors, was taught to be proud of his heritage. "You cannot extinguish the human spirit," he stressed, then went on to say that these early struggles were the birth pains. "Creativity can change this country; artists are the ones they lock up for telling the truth."

A beautiful hula was performed by Celena Kamimura to the song Maunaleo again reinterpreting our theme: "A cherished one, respected for power and strength/Esteemed, treasured, touched by heaven / Beloved are you, beloved indeed."

ri Union Diversity = Councillor/EEO Committee member Clarinda Ross and Western EEO Committee Chair Barbara Roberts

Presenter Sabrina Bryant spoke about power of dance, a universal language that transcends words, to introduce her friend, Filipina ballroom dancer Cheryl Burke. Ms Burke, in turn, thanked her mother for believing in her and letting her follow her dreams, encouraging her to realize that there are no limits on talent because of her heritage, and that hard work pays off.

The final presentation of the night began with "The Human Heart" from Once On This Island, beautifully expressing the ceremony's overall sentiment while honoring our Tri-Union awardee, George Takei. It was sung by Three Filipino Tenors member Randy Guiaya, accompanied by pianist Mark Abulencia and William Burke.

Tim Dang, the Producing Artistic Director of East West Players and an inaugural Ivy honoree, reviewed George Takei's history as a pioneer for equality in the Asian/API, Japanese-American and GLBT communities, and his dedication to civil rights, human rights and the power of art to make a difference. He also spoke of Mr Takei's involvement in the Arts in Transit program, a commission appointed by the late Mayor Tom Bradley to make art integral to our city. Mr Takei planted the seeds that bloomed as beautiful, locally-inspired metro stations as well as generating work for visual and literary artists, whose drawings and poetry grace LA's public transportation and other atypical venues that merge art and daily life.

Mr. Takei started by discussing the meaning of the word "union" - and the union of artists who define values and shape our society; artists are the link which connect our diversity. He spoke inspiringly of the physical barbed wire fences that enclosed him in the internment camps, and the invisible barbed wire that still threatens to restrict the rights of many people. Inspired by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., at a lecture where he heard him speak of peace and of bringing people together no matter the differences, Mr. Takei discovered that his mission entailed reaching beyond barriers, always seeking roles that challenged or broke down those invisible fences. "Artists - actors - are the tissue of understanding, bringing people together. Artists are the agent of change." He continued: "Wrtiers and artists personify our values, unite us, bring us together with understanding. Through diversity we can appreciate our unique wholeness, which makes us equals." Mr. Takei closed by reminding us of his favorite line from Star Trek: "Infinite diversity in infinite combinations."

The audience filed out slowly into the cool night, clustering in conversation and not wanting to let go of the spirit and community created in the theater this evening, the wonderful stories shared by so many talented and passionate artists - leaving all of us inspired to live up to the example set by these amazing people as we look forward to next year's Diversity Awards and the advances we can and will bring about by then.

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