Monday, March 8, 2004

This weekend, the NAACP announced the winners of its 2004 Image Awards. But when interested viewers get to see the winners on Fox television on Thursday, they won’t see controversial singer R. Kelly picking up an award for album of the year.

Taking to heart the bad press and other criticism it received for allowing the nomination of the suspected child pornographer, the NAACP is considering a morals clause and other changes regarding the awards nomination process. The changes will “protect and preserve the image of the Image Awards,” NAACP Board Chairman Julian Bond said. Also, President and CEO Kweisi Mfume, who initially defended Mr. Kelly’s nomination, said that nominess should be able “to do more than sing, dance, write and act.”

The Image Awards are generally bestowed upon black Americans who project positive images, such as astronaut Ronald McNair and civil rights giant Rosa Parks. This year’s nominees included Mr. Kelly, a neo-R&B singer/writer who favors sexually explicit lyrics and performances. Authorities in Florida and Illinois hit him with child pornography in 2002. In Chicago, for instance, he now faces 14 charges after a judge threw out seven counts late last month. Mr. Kelly, whose popularity soared with the blockbuster song “I Believe I Can Fly,” from the Michael Jordan children’s film, has said he is innocent.

Nonetheless, some conservative groups thought it inappropriate that an entertainer with such a questionable background (particularly involving children) be nominated. In January, Mychal Massie of the black conservative organization Project 21 was one of the first to speak out against the Kelly nomination, saying the NAACP is “out of touch” with the needs of black America. Editors of this page criticized the nomination as well, saying it “hurts the image of the NAACP itself.” That Mr. Mfume defended the nomination well into last month came as no surprise, since much of the criticism was from conservatives. At one point, he urged NAACP members “to let the [nomination] process run its course and allow the members to vote.” He even politicized the issue, saying “we are Americans, not Iraqis.” Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed.

Yesterday, Project 21 applauded the NAACP for “seeing the light.” Mr. Massie said: “We are pleased that the more rational elements with the NAACP have prevailed and are looking into a morals clause pursuant to the goals of the Image Awards. It should be viewed as nothing less than lamentable that an organization with such an august beginning allowed irrational minds to permit this embarrassment to happen in the first place.” Wish that the liberal “august” NAACP leaned more toward the right. For now, we settle for the about face on the Image Awards.

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