She has already collected Oscar and Golden Globe statues but Saturday’s tribute from the Atlanta Urban League made actress-comedienne-talk show host Mo’Nique emotional nonetheless.
“When you get your community to say, ‘we honor you,’ it’s a privilege,” she told us during a short interview ahead of time. “It’s humbling.”
Mo’Nique won best supporting actress awards for her role in the Tyler Perry-Oprah Winfrey presented film “Precious,” and hosts “The Mo’Nique Show” on BET. The show’s positive nature explains its success, she said.
“There are a lot of amazing talk shows, but we’re a celebration of live and love,” she said. “When you’re ready to talk about life and love, you’ll come see us.”
So, who does she want to work with next? “I don’t consider this work,” she said. “I would love to play with Don Cheadle. Don, if you’re reading this, dammit, I’ve said it too many times. You haven’t called me!”
A number of notable guests attended Saturday’s Spirit of the League luncheon, held at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis and emceed by HLN anchor Richelle Carey and Ryan Smith, host of Tru TV’s “In Session.”
Atlanta Urban League president and CEO Nancy Flake Johnson, board chair Cole W. Carroll, board vice chair Noni Ellison-Southall and board member Gail Nutt all gave welcoming remarks. Trumpet Awards founder Xernona Clayton, former NBA star Kevin Willis and U.S. District Judge Clarence Cooper were among the guests.
Roger Bobb, executive vice president of Tyler Perry Studios, referenced the Oscars triumph in his introductory remarks.
“I had the privilege of being at the Kodak Theatre that night, and I don’t mind telling you we all acted a fool when Mo’Nique won!” On a serious note he said her role as the abusive Mary Jones was one of the finest performances he’s ever seen. Bobb and William L. Hawthorne served as honorary co-chairs of the event.
The invocation was delivered by former Ambassador and Mayor Andy Young, who managed to pack humor and a history lesson in his few minutes before the audience.
“I tried to get Gail Nutt to invite some of the younger local pastors to give the invocation, and then I realized that giving an invocation is giving thanks,” Young said. Noting that the Marriott’s location used to be the site of a hospital, he said, “Right about where we are is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. learned he had won the Nobel Prize.”
King had gone to the doctor for a check-up when he received the call, Young explained.
The transition from hospital site to hotel site occurred while Young was in office, inspiring a funny anecdote: “They were trying to tell me where I could park. I said, ‘Look, son, I broke ground on this. I dug the first ditch. Back off, leave my car along, I need to go pray for these folks!”
City Councilman Michael Julian Bond attended on Mayor Kasim Reed’s behalf and presented Mo’Nique with the Phoenix Award, the city’s highest honor. A video of film clips and interviews preceded Mo’Nique’s appearance before the crowd.
“I was watching the video and I said, ‘Who are they talking about?’ and I looked up at a little fat black girl from Baltimore,” Mo’Nique said. “I’ve gotten a lot of ‘you can’t,’ ‘you won’t,’ ‘you’re too big,’ ‘you’re black, ‘you’re a woman,’ and I took all that and I kept my focus and said, something’s going to work out.”
She wiped tears away with a tissue several times during her comments. “Dream big,” she said. “I came to Atlanta when my baby was 2, with no money, driving a U-Haul. My baby is 20 now and we’re not driving any more U-Haul trucks.”