Rihanna was honored with the President’s Award at the NAACP Image Awards on Saturday.
Looking glamorous in a purple Givenchy gown, the 32-year-old singer, who celebrated her birthday earlier in the week, received a standing ovation as she accepted the award from NAACP President Derrick Johnson at the 51st annual ceremony, which was broadcast live on BET. During her moving speech, the music and fashion icon, entrepreneur, and philanthropist called for unity and equality.
“I’m going to try to keep this simple because tonight is not really about me because the purpose is bigger than me, right?” she began. “It’s not bigger than us together, but it’s bigger than me because my part is a very small part of the work that’s being done in this world and the work that has yet to be done.”
Rihanna, who has raised millions as part of her philanthropic efforts, continued with some inspiring words. “I’m lucky I was able to start the Clara Lionel Foundation in 2012. And if there’s any thing that I’ve learned is that we can only fix this world together. We can’t do it divided. I cannot emphasize that enough. We can’t let the de-sensitivity seep in. The, ‘If it’s your problem, then it’s not mine; It’s a woman’s problem; It’s a black people problem; It’s a poor people problem.'”
As she looked into the crowd, which included Lizzo, Janelle Monáe, and Tracee Ellis Ross, she stressed the importance of people of all backgrounds coming together. “I mean, how many of us in this room have colleagues and partners and friends from other races, sexes, religions? Show of hands. Well, they want to break bread with you, right? They like you? Well, then this is their problem, too. So when we’re marching and protesting and posting about the Michael Brown Juniors and Atatiana Jeffersons of the World, tell your friends to pull up.”
She ended by thanking the NAACP and celebrating the strength of the black community. “Thank you to the NAACP for all of your efforts to ensure equality for our communities. Thank you for celebrating our strength and tenacity. We’ve been denied opportunities since the beginning of time. Still, we prevail. so I’m honored. Imagine what we can do together. Thank you for this honor.”
The President’s Award is presented in recognition of a special achievement and distinguished public service. Previous recipients have included JAY-Z, Jesse Jackson, Lauryn Hill, Jesse Jackson, Colin Powell, and Muhammad Ali.
Other winners at the 51st NAACP Image Awards included Lizzo (Entertainer of the Year), Jamie Foxx (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture), and Lupita Nyong’o (Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture).
Jill Scott took to the stage to perform “Do You Remember” and “The Way” and H.E.R. delivered a medley of “Slide,” “Slow Down,” and “Turn Your Lights Down Low” with Skip Marley.
Beyoncé picked up six awards during the non-televised ceremony and her 8-year-old daughter Blue Ivy won her first NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Duo, Group or Collaboration for her “Brown Skin Girl” contribution to The Lion King: The Gift. Other winners included Lil Nas X (Outstanding New Artist) and Bruno Mars (Outstanding Male Artist).