Stars turn out for Drum Major Awards in Atlanta

theGRIO REPORT - Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Penn and Al Sharpton were among those recognized at this year's Drum Major for Justice Awards...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

ATLANTA – Samuel L. Jackson, Sean Penn, and Al Sharpton were among those recognized at this year’s Drum Major for Justice Awards.

The ceremony, which took place on Wednesday at a downtown Atlanta hotel, pays tribute to those that have made contributions in the areas of service, justice and achievement in their respective fields.

Other honorees included: CNN news anchor, Don Lemon; former NFL player Chris Draft; Morehouse College president, Dr. Robert Michael Franklin; LaTanya Richardson Jackson (actress and wife of actor Samuel L Jackson); and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Isabel Wilkerson.

Now in its 33rd year, the star-studded awards dinner is held annually on the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s death, to salute individuals and organizations that carry on the spirit of King’s work through social justice, leadership and excellence.

Civil Rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton, was described by veteran journalist Angela Robinson, who hosted the event, as a man who uses his platform to “to give a voice to the voiceless.”

In an emotional speech about Trayvon Martin’s death, Sharpton said, “We managed to move from the back of the bus to the White House, so surely we can get one guy arrested in Florida.”

Speaking to theGrio, Don Lemon, who, like Sharpton accepted an award for his work in the media, said, “It is interesting to see how the Martin case has “evolved from obscurity.” His death represents “what tonight is all about,” and that is justice for all those involved, said Lemon.

“We carefully choose our honorees based upon Dr. King’s legacy – those who give of themselves for the greater good of humankind,” said Mrs. Evelyn Lowery, Founder and CEO of the SCLC’s Women’s Organizational Movement for Equality Now, which organizes the yearly event.

Chris Draft and mental health advocate, Terrie M. Williams, were both honored for their work in Health Awareness. Draft was recognized for his commitment to the Chris Draft Family Foundation, which empowers families to live healthy lifestyles. The former NFL player lost his wife, Keasha, to lung cancer last year. The couple had been married for just one month.

Williams, the president and founder of The Terrie Williams Agency and The Stay Strong Foundation, told theGrio that the award “has given me time to think about what I have accomplished” and to remind her “that her work has made a difference.”

“I started my business at when I was eight-years-old, and I knew my main focus would be to give something back to the community,” said 11-year-old Maya Penn, who was honored for her work in Youth Leadership.

Penn is the CEO and owner of her own eco-friendly online fashion company called Maya’s Ideas, which gives 10 percent of its proceeds to charities and global relief organizations.

Mrs. Lowery and Martin Luther King III closed out the evening with dedications to Dr. King.

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter at @Kunbiti