LaTosha Brown

2022 Choral Arts Humanitarian Award Recipient

Transcript from LaTosha Brown’s speech at Living the Dream…Singing the Dream, the 34th Annual Choral Tribute to Dr. Martin Luter King, Jr. on Sunday, April 10, 2022 at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. 

Shawn Yancy 

The Choral Arts Society [of Washington] began honoring individuals who embody the work and the values of Dr. King back in 2004. Tonight the annual Humanitarian Award recognizes another individual whose life moves in that same spirit. She is one who refuses to become silent about things that matter. Here to present the 2022 Award is the recipient of the 2020 Humanitarian Award, former president and director council of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, Sherrilyn Ifill.

Sherrilyn Ifill 

Thank you.  Good evening, everyone. It was a great honor to receive this award in 2020 and to be introduced by my great hero, Marian Wright Edelman. And I thought nothing could honor me more and could make me happier, but I find that I am just delighted to be here with you tonight to introduce this year’s recipient, Miss LaTosha Brown.  

As you may know, I recently stepped down from leading the nation’s premier civil rights legal organization for 10 years. And in the course of that work, I have the great privilege of meeting across the country hundreds of thousands and even millions of people who are fighting every day for something better. And I’m encouraged because I meet parents and young people and teachers and just ordinary folks who believe that this country can be better, who believe that their communities can be better and who are fighting for the future, not only of their children, but of your children.  

But truly one of the greatest honors of this work is discovering and embracing and working shoulder to shoulder with the many other civil rights advocates and activists that you become privileged to meet across the country. One who I have taken into my embrace and who has taken me into hers, who is an extraordinary leader who I feel privileged to know is LaTosha Brown.  

Now some of you have probably seen LaTosha Brown. She’s the incredibly beautiful and glamorous woman that you may have seen on MSNBC or CNN who always gets a 10 out of 10 on Room Rater because her background is so beautiful on her Zoom. You’ve seen her smile, you’ve heard her sing, and I hope you know about her work. And I hope you know about the character of this extraordinary woman from Selma, Alabama.  

She’s a product of the public schools. She went to Selma High School and then to Auburn University, but she had the fire of activism in her that she learned from her grandmother. She calls her grandmother her soulmate and she remembers going to the voting booth as a little girl with her grandmother holding her hand. Her grandmother dressed in her Sunday best for the honor of casting her ballot. And LaTosha Brown said when her grandmother entered that booth and closed the curtain, it was her moment. And so born then in LaTosha Brown was an understanding of the way in which our right to vote is truly preservative of all rights as the Supreme Court said more than a hundred years ago. And so LaTosha Brown has been civic-minded.  

She said she’s always interested in power, not power for the sake of exercising it, but power for our communities and for our families. She’s run for office twice. She is an entrepreneur who has created so many organizations, Grant Makers for Southern Progress, Southern [Black] Girls and Women’s Consortium, Truth Speaks. And of course, the organization you all know so well that she created with her friend and colleague Cliff Albright, Black Voters Matter.  

And that organization has been transformative in this country working in nine states, Black Voters Matter travels in a big bus and activates in people in our community, their own understanding of their power. Registering them to vote and preparing them for upcoming elections. They played a critical role in the special election in Alabama that elected Doug Jones to the Senate. They played a critical role in 2020 in the outpouring in Georgia, the highest participation in a presidential election ever. And then just a few months later, in the special election for the Senate.  

This is hard work, but LaTosha Brown is a very special person. Civil rights activism is an organism. Some groups or people are responsible for carrying forward the intellectual challenge, some become the voice. Some become the spirit. Some become the heart. LaTosha Brown is a mixture of all of these. She is the Fannie Lou Hamer of the modern civil rights movement. She reminds us of who we are and whose we are. She brings her spirit to the work. The reason that she smiles all the time comes from a deep spiritual belief that we will win. And when you are with her, you believe it too.  

There are moments in which she has called us back from the brink with her beautiful voice that echoes the Fannie Lou Hamers and the Marian Andersons, that reminds us of the deep wells of strength, power, and creativity that live within us. And so, she is our heart, and our soul, and our spirit. And as we move into 2024, we will need her.  

Our country did not go over the cliff’s edge in 2020 but we remain at the brink, and it will require every one of us to do our part to work to save American democracy. And fortunately, fortunately, yes, you should clap for yourselves. Fortunately, you will have to inspire you, to lead you, to give you direction, to give you hope, to encourage you, to make you believe, as I believe that we will win, and we must win. You will have this year’s recipient of the humanitarian award. My friend, LaTosha Brown. 

LaTosha Brown 

♪ I know I’ve been changed ♪  

♪ I know I’ve been changed  

♪ oh Lord I have ♪  

♪ I know I’ve been changed ♪  

♪ You know the angels in heaven ♪  

♪ Signed my name, oh Lord ♪ 

♪ I know I’ve been changed ♪ 

♪ I know I’ve been changed, oh Lord ♪  

♪ I know I’ve been changed ♪ 

♪ You know the angels in heaven ♪ 

done signed my name ♪ 


Thank you. As I stand here, I wanted to start as I often do with a song as Sherrilyn talked about earlier, who is my sister, isn’t Sherrilyn just wonderful? One of the most brilliant legal minds and just a beautiful human being.  

I wanted to start with singing a song that my grandmother used to sing. And I’m full as I’m talking about it now when she would sing it, I used to think she used to hum it all the time. And I was thinking to myself, it’s such a sad song. I thought it was a sad song. Cause I could hear the undertones. I could hear the passion, I could hear the soul in it. But I got it down mama, I got it. I know what that song is carrying forth. I know. And so in this space, I’m raising that. I’m so incredibly grateful.  

I’m grateful to the Choral Arts Society. I’m grateful for every single person that made this happen in this moment. I’m so grateful for those that are here and those that were unable to be here. Those that for centuries have created a space for me to stand before you today because there was something about them really standing in the midst of their own humanity that opened up the way for me. And so, I stand as part of that legacy. And there are three things that as I just wanna say briefly, what is so special about this particular award and honor, I don’t know if I’ve ever been this excited to get an award and honor but part of it is because my three loves.  

My three loves. I absolutely love Dr. King and I’m inspired by his work. And I’m constantly reading about his work and reading his words and meditating on the wisdom that he brought to us in the world about creating the beloved community. Secondly, I absolutely love music if y’all can tell. And so, to be able to hear music and the celebration of gospel and spirituals, I have a particular affection for spirituals. And the third piece is to have an award that actually embraces the whole notion of a humanitarian award. I’m raising that because in this moment, we’re thinking that the work that I do, yes, I do political work. Black Voters Matter.  

Our goal is how do we build this infrastructure to create independent Black political power. But ultimately for me, even democracy is a means to an end, not an end in itself. An end in itself, of what I believe is how do we center the love of humanity that I want you just to imagine with me, if you could just take a couple of seconds and close your eyes where you are in this moment.  

I want you to close your eyes. And I want you to hear a question. I want you to hear this question with your heart. I always ask this question and my question to you, what would this nation look like without racism? What would America look like if all human beings felt valued and respected? That is what I’m fighting for. Democracy is a means to an end but ultimately, imagine we create a nation that at the center of that is the love of humanity.  

If we were taking an account the love of humanity, what would policy decisions look like? What would places of employment look like? What would education look like? And so, in this space, in this space, I just hope we understand that in this moment that we’re feeling discomfort, in this moment that there seems a sense of uncertainty. In this moment that we see the political polarization, at the end of the day it’s not our politics that will save us. It will be our humanity. And so, I’m hoping that we lean into this moment in the spirit of love and in the power of love.  

And just as those 600 people on the Edmund Pettus Bridge were able to change the course of history knowing that they would be met with resistance, knowing that they would be beat, knowing that they didn’t have government on their side, they didn’t have a lot of resources. But what they had is they had a deep sense of their humanity and have the audacity to believe that they could change and transform the world through love.  

And so, I stand here as a product of that work, and I leave you with  


♪ Well the first thing I did right ♪ 

♪ was the day I started to fight. ♪  

♪ Keep your eyes on the prize and hold on. ♪  

♪ Hold on. ♪  


Amen. Thank you so much for having me.