Steve Harvey’s 'Neighborhood Awards' woos fans in Atlanta

ATLANTA — This year’s Ford Neighborhood Awards Weekend proved to be a huge success, with fans turning out in droves to support the move to the new location in Atlanta.

Now in its 12th year, the four-day expo and star-studded awards show drew around 150,000 attendees, with tickets selling-out for many of the events.

Supporters, predominately African-American women, came out in full force to sample exhibitors and other attractions at the Georgia World Congress Center.

The venue for the Saturday night awards show, Philips Arena, which seats roughly 18,000 people, was also nearly jam-packed.

Previously held in Las Vegas, this is the first time that the national convention has been in the South.

Still, the move makes good business sense. A large chunk of the Steve Harvey Morning Show fan base lives within a seven-mile drive radius of Atlanta.

“I’ll be in Atlanta for a long time,” Harvey told theGrio on the blue carpet. “This is way better than they thought it’d be.”

The Neighborhood Awards Expo, formally known as the Hoodie Awards, is a four-day extravaganza of music, educational seminars, comedy shows, screenings and interactive workshops, from managing finances to candid relationship advice.

Starting on Thursday, the marathon weekend kicked off with the hilarious Stand-Up Comedy Jam, hosted by Nephew Tommy.

Other activities included a live taping of Harvey’s syndicated morning radio show, with a bustling audience and dynamic performances by John Legend and George Tandy Jr. The sold-out Freedom Friday All White Party concert and Morgan Stanley financial education seminars were also big hitters.

At the centerpiece of the weekend was the awards ceremony, where celebrities paid homage to outstanding businesses and foot soldiers making a difference through contributions and excellence in their local communities.

“It’s to give the community a round of applause,” said comedic radio and TV host Harvey. “As celebrities, we’ve been standing on the shoulders of our communities, and we’re from here.”

“I want to give them a chance to know celebrities appreciate them. We may get some money and move on, but we know where we’re from.”

Performers at the show included Robin Thicke, Ne-Yo, Chrisette Michele, Tamela Mann, India Arie and an unexpected appearance by R&B singer Keith Sweat.

Others who took time to hand out gongs or attend included Sherri Shepherd, Shemar Moore, Tracee Ellis Ross, Sheryl Underwood, Keke Palmer, Yolanda Adams, Kirk Franklin, Atlanta Mayor Kasim and civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump.

“I love the fact that Steve cares enough about the community,” TV personality Sherri Shepherd told theGrio. “Real folks, doing real things.”

“They’re in the kitchen making those ribs,” said Shepherd, who officially left The View on Monday, August 11. “They are in the schools teaching our children. They’re working so hard. I love the fact that this is a night just for them.”

“It only makes us better when we celebrate each other,” said gospel singer Erica Campbell. “Public affirmation is very important in our world, and not enough of it happens.”

“Last year in Vegas was my first time, and I was really humbled and inspired,” said Criminal Minds actor Shemar Moore. “If you’re just getting your shine and doing nothing else, what’s it all for?”

What makes the awards so unique is that the non-traditional categories celebrate facets of black culture that are largely ignored in mainstream America. Among the 12 gongs, driven by local community nominations, are Best Church Choir, Best Barber Shop, Best School Teacher, Best Soul Food Restaurant and Best Community Leader.

Stan Richards, a native Washingtonian, who won the Community Leader, gave an impassioned speech on the podium at the end of the awards show.

“I want to acknowledge Steve Harvey for teaching us all to learn, earn and return,” said Richards. “I want to thank you for going to the Hood and not around the Hood.”

Richards, who was presented with a check of $30,000 by title sponsor Ford for The Richards Group Foundation, said, “I am committed to spending every dime on the ghettos of Washington D.C.”

Follow Kunbi Tinuoye on Twitter @Kunbiti.