2016 has been a year of unprecedented highs and lows for the African-American community and the Native Son Awards looks to shine a light on how Black gay men in media, entertainment and social activism contributed to the forward progress.

The inaugural Native Son Awards ceremony will highlight the achievements of several accomplished influencers across multiple industries. Emil Wilbekin says 2016 was the seminal year to kick off the event. “This year was the perfect year to launch the Native Son Awards because there are more Black gay men who are visible in the world who need to be recognized and celebrated,” Wilbekin tells ESSENCE. “This year alone, Moonlight became the ‘must-see’ film of the year, Empire––created by Lee Daniels and staring Jussie Smollett––is still one of the highest rated shows on TV, DeRay Mckesson has been at the forefront of the Black Lives Matter movement, and Don Lemon has been outspoken about social justice and police brutality. And with the election, it’s even more important to make sure that Black men, no matter what their sexual identity, are seen and heard.” 

A successful journalist and activist in his own right, Wilbekin is hopeful that the awards ceremony will amplify the practice of recognizing African-Americans in the LGBT community who are excelling in ways that shift the culture for the better. “Often times in the LGBT community, African-Americans are marginalized and overlooked – very similar to mainstream society,” he says. “I wanted to create a safe place where we can come together and have fellowship, mentorship and discussions that are specific to us and our community. I believe there is also a need to have generational conversations with the Black Gay community, which is an important part of passing on information and sharing ideas. I also wanted to show the great diversity within the Black Gay community. We are vast and that needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.”

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This year’s awards will honor Tony Award-winning director and playwright George C. Wolfe; journalist and CNN Tonight Host Don Lemon; and Black Lives Matter Activist DeRay Mckesson. Through providing a platform for Black gay men to be celebrated for the ways in which they influence others, Wilbekin looks forward to broadening the conversation on both a national level and within the Black community.

“In my mind, Native Son has the ability to shift the cultural conversation in the Black community about Black Gay Men,” he says. “The National Urban League Conference hosted a Native Son panel this summer and it was the first time there had been an LGBT conversation at this historic civil rights convening. The more visibility we have, the more dialogue we can have. I hope that Native Son will be able to bring more of these conversations to life in the new year. This is just the beginning.”

The 2016 Native Son Awards will take place at New York City’s Cadillac House on November 30.