NAACP Mourns the Loss of Willis Edwards

(Baltimore, MD) - The NAACP mourns the passing of civil rights icon and long-time NAACP leader Willis Edwards. He was 66 years old.

"Our dear friend and colleague Willis Edwards embodied the spirit of the NAACP," stated NAACP Chairman Roslyn M. Brock. "Willis attended his duties with great humility and greater passion. His accomplishments in the civil rights arena speak to a career that defies narrow definition. Willis promoted and protected the image of African Americans in the arts; he shaped and expanded the vision of the NAACP National Board of Directors; and he tore down barriers to honest conversation about HIV/AIDS in communities of color. He will be greatly missed."

"Willis Edwards was a towering figure in the NAACP and his legacy will be remembered for generations to come," stated NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "As a civil rights crusader, he continued in the tradition of those who came before him but also created new avenues to pursue justice in a changing world. His ingenuity made him a strong leader and a trusted advisor to so many freedom fighters across the country.”

In 1982, Edwards was elected President of the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch. More recently, he served as First Vice President of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch. Edwards is credited with by many helping to build the coalition of producers and funders that led to the first NAACP Image Awards live on national television in 1986.

He also served on the National Board of the NAACP for 12 years in many different capacities. His roles included Vice Chair of the Image Awards, member of the NAACP Crisis Magazine Committee; member of the Executive Committee and the Budget and Finance Committee; member of the National Health Committee and chair of the sub-committee on HIV/AIDS. He recently stepped down from the Board of Directors and joined the NAACP Board of Trustees.

"Willis understood more than most, the nexus among race, culture and the arts," stated NAACP Board of Trustees Chairman Eugene Duffy. "He comprehended that how we are portrayed on the stage and screen, what is written by and about the people of the African Diaspora, defines not only how we see the world but how the world sees us. His legacy with the NAACP, particularly the Image Awards, will continue to serve as a source of inspiration for generations to come. The curtain has closed for Willis in this life but I certain he is center stage in heaven."

Diagnosed with HIV/AIDS late in life, Edwards developed a reputation as a strident spokesman for HIV/AIDS education and advocacy. He was instrumental in guiding the NAACP's work with HIV/AIDS. He also worked with the Minority AIDS Project. His final project was the development of the NAACP manual "The Black Church and HIV: The Social Justice Imperative," a handbook to help congregations stem the spread of the virus.

Edwards began his life in activism as a staffer on the Robert F. Kennedy presidential campaign and earned a Bronze Star in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. He has worked with Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks, arranging for Mrs. Parks to sit with First Lady Hilary Rodham Clinton at the 1999 State of the Union Address. He served as Vice President of Development and Planning for the Rosa Parks Museum and Library in Montgomery, Alabama.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities, conducting voter mobilization and monitoring equal opportunity in the public and private sectors.

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