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Jewels from Xernona Clayton’s Signature Tiara:

Life Lessons from a Queen of the Civil Rights Movement and Founder of the Trumpet Awards

Xernona Clayton received her Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Tennessee State University and received a scholarship from the University of Chicago for graduate studies. She is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.

Clayton moved to Atlanta in 1965 where she accepted a position with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and worked closely with the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Clayton also traveled extensively with Coretta Scott King on her nationwide concert tours, raising funds to support various causes.

Clayton began her television career in 1967 and became the south’s first Black person to have her own television show. The Xernona Clayton show was a regular feature on WAGA-TV, CBS affiliate in Atlanta. She was the first black person in the south to have her own television show. She was employed at Turner Broadcasting for nearly 30 years where she served as a corporate executive.

Xernona Clayton is the Founder, President and CEO of the Trumpet Awards Foundation, Inc. and Creator and Executive Producer of the Foundation’s Trumpet Awards. The Trumpet Awards is a prestigious event highlighting African American accomplishments and contributions, initiated in 1993 by Turner Broadcasting. The Trumpet Awards has been televised annually and distributed internationally to over 185 countries around the world.

Clayton was honored by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) Southeast Emmy Chapter Gold Circle reserved for those who have dedicated 50 or more years pioneering, advancing, and serving the industry and public. Her autobiography “I’ve been Marching All the Time” was published in 1991. The Atlanta Association of Black Journalists named its scholarship in her honor and annually presents the Xernona Clayton Scholarship to a student pursuing a career in communications. Ed Dwight is designing an 8 ft. bronze sculpture of Clayton that will be erected soon at Xernona Clayton Plaza. This honor will make Clayton the first Black woman to have a statue erected in downtown Atlanta. She is the first Black woman here to have a street named in her honor.

SoFu Lifestyle’s conversation with Ms. Clayton started with her recalling the lessons that she learned from her parents and along the way. I was able to ask her advice to the new leaders of the movements for social change. Each of the gems that she dropped was a life lesson all on its own. I will be honored to pass them on to my son, my young cousins, and my mentees.

1. When you are blessed abundantly, be sure to share with others.

Little Xernona was a twin and she was blessed with a rich aunt in Oklahoma. She and her sister always had several dresses for Easter and they would have trouble picking their outfits for the annual Easter parade. Her father pointed out that some of her friends were not so lucky. From a young age, Xernona learned to share cheerfully with friends and strangers alike. She also told me about a time when she loaned a dress to a woman so that she could attend the Trumpet Awards. Xernona insisted that the lady keep the dress and even gave her a second dress so that she would have a choice of dresses to wear.  

2. Always, always be on time.

This was another lesson that she learned early and from her father. Getting to a meeting, even a casual meet-up with friends is a sign of respect. And much to my chagrin, she specifically said that Atlanta traffic is no excuse. As a result of this lesson, she now has an impressive collection of clocks.

3. Maybe you can’t do everything. But everyone can do something.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used to say, “Xernona could do anything!” There are many different aspects to every movement. Clayton explained that everyone does not have to march in the streets. There will be a need for lawyers, people to transport others to the hospital, fundraisers to collect the money to get people out of jail that have been arrested for protesting, and someone to document and tell the story. In the modern day, this includes both journalists and social media influencers to get the word out.

4. People will hate you without even getting to know you. Love them anyway.

When Clayton got to Atlanta, she found that she was one of a few women with a degree that was working with the SCLC. In fact, she had two. The ladies had decided that they wouldn’t like Xernona for that reason. Instead of reacting to the unfairness of this, she rallied them around redecorating the offices. She is a savvy shopper and managed to acquire some quality finds on a tiny budget. By the end of that project, all the ladies got along fine.

5. Don’t judge people by their outside appearance.

One of Clayton’s great accomplishments in the civil rights movement was working to desegregate the hospitals in the South. “In 1966, she coordinated the activities of Atlanta’s Black doctors in a project called Doctors’ Committee for Implementation, which resulted in the desegregation of all hospital facilities in Atlanta. This project served as a model and a pilot for other states throughout the country and received national honor from the National Medical Association for its impact.” There was a distinct difference in the way they treated the injured protestors, who were intentionally wearing their suits and Sunday best, as opposed to how they treated the local people, farmers and regular citizens. The inequity was obvious in this case.

5. There are no boundaries in doing good.

Xernona Clayton did so much good here locally that it almost gets lost in the story that she founded a school on the continent of Africa. In fact, due to Clayton’s desire for her students to have access to running water, the entire village now has clean water.   

6. Sometimes it’s up to you to spread good news. So trumpet it and shout it from the rooftops!

When I asked Ms. Clayton about how she had the idea to start the Trumpet awards, she told me that Dr. King said that racists are often acting out of ignorance, meaning that they really don’t know any of the people they are prejudiced against. They are often acting on what someone else taught them. So Clayton made it her mission to tell about the good things people were doing in the African American community. Clayton actually received feedback from both black and white viewers. 

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