Ask veteran actress and writer Ruby Dee what she is proudest of in her lengthy career, and she says it is the choice she and her husband, Ossie Davis, made for their golden wedding anniversary celebration.
"Ossie didn't believe in celebrating, but our daughters insisted we do something," says the actress. "We came up with doing a benefit for 12 community theaters in New York City," she says, adding that in the end, the festivities raised more than a quarter of a million dollars, which Ms. Dee and Mr. Davis distributed to a selection of black, Hispanic, and Asian groups in the city.
For Dee, the opportunity to give back to the local arts community was particularly important.
"I don't think the arts would have been as meaningful to me if I hadn't grown up in Harlem," she says. Dee got her start at the American Negro Theater, "in the basement at 136th St.," she says with a laugh.
"These people dedicated their lives to bringing theater to people."
Tomorrow night, Dee and Davis - triple threat actor, director, and writer - will be honored in the annual Trumpet Awards (TBS, 7 p.m.).
The two, who have worked together for many years, producing and writing projects for the stage, film, and television, will receive the Pinnacle Trumpet Award, for a lifetime of achievement. They made their film debut in 1950 in "No Way Out" with Sidney Poitier and then starred together on Broadway in "A Raisin in the Sun." In recent years, they've appeared in several Spike Lee films, such as "Malcolm X."
TBS founder Ted Turner created the awards in 1993 as the closing evening of a three-day symposium honoring blacks from all walks of life.
Christy Kreisberg, vice president of original programming for TBS, says she believes the awards are more timely than ever.
"People are looking for positive news," she says, particularly when it comes to race relations. Unlike the plethora of televised awards shows at this time of year, the Trumpet Awards are not geared to a film or album the honoree is selling.
This year's list of honorees include Marine Lt. Col. Marilyn Wells; civil rights lawyer Vernon Jordan; Perry Christie, prime minister of the Bahamas; NBA hall of famer Julius "Dr. J" Erving; and 12-year-old golfer Cheyenne Woods (niece to Tiger).
Davis worries that the concept of honoring excellence has been diluted by the proliferation of awards shows. "I fear American's intoxication with hype," says the actor, who made his Broadway debut in 1946 in "Jeb."
"To beat the drum as if all these awards mean something is to render us hypocrites in the eyes of our children. They see us and they judge us," he says, adding, "We're merchandising [awards] to death."
But Dee says the timing of the Trumpet Awards is good, because Americans need to be reminded that no race of people is better than another.
"African-Americans have a lot to teach the world," says the author/actress, who points to a long list of black Americans, including Zora Neale Thurston, as her own inspiration.
"We're the group that's managed to survive unspeakable ignorance." This group, she says, also understands how hard it is to bring about social change. "We've waited a long time to see attitudes change and laws passed as people tried to be better because they couldn't accept cruelty and injustice," but they have changed, she adds, because "that's who we are."
Awards ceremonies are good, she adds, "because we all have to be reminded of the evidences of our natural greatness as spiritual beings on this earth.
"Black History Month is fine," she says with a laugh, "but we need more months of the year to celebrate all the people on this earth. After all, we're all creatures of the same God."