The nomination for an NAACP Image Award of R&B; star R. Kelly, who is awaiting trial on charges of having sex with an underage girl, has sparked controversy and may result in a change in the way nominees are selected.
Kelly, 35, has been nominated for his latest album, Chocolate Factory, which includes the hit single "Step in the Name of Love." His selection has caused a furor, with people discussing it on talk radio shows - including Larry Young's show on WOLB 1010 AM - and online chat rooms across the country.
NAACP President Kweisi Mfume plans to ask the civil rights organization's board of directors to change the selection process for the prestigious awards, a change that could come as early as its Feb. 21 meeting. Mfume hasn't asked the board to consider rescinding Kelly's nomination, though he may at some point, said spokesman John C. White.
"It continues to concern me that every now and then an Image Award nomination is put forth that fails to meet the high standards for positive, constructive images on which the program was originally created," Mfume said in a statement released last week. "Part of the reason for this is that the NAACP does not totally control the nominating process but is held totally responsible for all of the nominations."
Image Award nominees are chosen by a committee of 300 - 150 members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and 150 members of the TV, recording, movie and publishing industries. After nominations are announced, NAACP members nationwide vote by secret ballot.
"Sometimes some of the people outside of the NAACP who vote to select the initial list of nominees for the Image Awards do not necessarily see things the way we do with respect to image," Mfume's statement continued. "It's important from this point on that Image Award nominees be totally selected by the NAACP in order to ensure that they reflect the standards for which the award was created."
This year's Image Awards ceremony will be held on March 6 and aired at 8 p.m. March 11 on the Fox network.
The Image Awards were created to recognize African-Americans who have excelled in film, TV, literature and the recording industry and to also recognize accomplishments of those individuals who have worked for positive social change within the industry and the community, White said.
Kelly, a three-time Grammy winner who has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide, was arrested in June 2002 after a videotape surfaced that allegedly shows him having sex with a minor. He is awaiting trial in Chicago on those charges. He is also awaiting trial in Florida on child pornography charges.
Charles Christian and Ronald Walters, professors at the University of Maryland College Park, say Kelly's nomination sends the wrong message about the Image Awards.
"African-Americans are, I think, confused about this award and what it really, truly means," said Christian, a social geographer who conducts an annual, statewide Black Saga competition that strives to teach elementary and middle school students about the African-American experience. "I, quite frankly, think that there are far more African-Americans who are deserving."
Walters said he was "incensed" when he heard of Kelly's nomination but applauds Mfume's efforts to have the nomination process changed.
"This is not a music award, first of all, it is an image award," said Walters, Distinguished Leadership Scholar and professor of government and politics. "Let's be very clear about this. It was created to award those artists in Hollywood who represented the best in terms of their character, their integrity and their art.
"If they don't rescind [the nomination], that's sad," Walters said. "That really is sad to have the NAACP associated with something like that."
Not everyone agrees.
White said a few callers have pointed out that Kelly has yet to stand trial and should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Young, a former state senator, said he doesn't have a problem with Kelly's nomination. The issue was discussed twice last week on his morning show.
"I would say the majority of the callers were not pleased at the nomination," Young said. "My co-host said they should rescind it, but I didn't agree with that. I think that we need to be very slow to do anything until the man has finished and has exhausted the legal process. As I understand it, he was recognized for his gift, his God-given talent."
This is not the first time there has been controversy surrounding Image Award nominees.
Last year, many people objected to the nomination of the film comedy Barbershop, which stars Cedric the Entertainer and Ice Cube, because of jokes made in the movie about Rosa Parks, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Jesse Jackson. In fact, Cedric the Entertainer was the host of the Image Awards last year, and Parks declined an invitation to the attend the ceremony.