Very disappointing news. Civil rights pioneer Willis Edwards has died, reports CNN. The openly gay and openly HIV positive Edwards was the longtime president of the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch and key to launching the NAACP Image Awards on national television.
Edwards was known as a fixer and "Mr. NAACP", according to those who knew him. Born in Texas and raised in Palm Springs, he lead a storied life in politics, entertainment and activism.
Edwards served on the Social Services Commission after Tom Bradley was elected Los Angeles mayor, according to a spokeswoman for the family. Four years after an unsuccessful run for the California General Assembly, Edwards was elected president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood Branch of the NAACP in 1982, according to the website. More recently, he served as the chapter's first vice president.
Phill Wilson, president and CEO of the Black AIDS Institute, reflected on Edwards' resourcefulness. "The thing about Willis is that he was one of those people in the tradition of the black experience of making a way out of no way," Wilson said.
Former U.S. Rep. Diane Watson knew Edwards for more than 40 years, going back to when he was student body president in college. She said he was known around town as "The Fixer." "Willis could get you into anything, any party, any private event. He just knew everybody," said Watson, a former U.S. ambassador to Micronesia. "Willis could talk his way into Fort Knox with two guns blazing."
Edwards served on the National Board of the NAACP for 12 years. He was also a key figure in the Board's historic May 19 resolution to support marriage equality. The civil rights leader also pressed the NAACP to take a more active role in HIV/AIDS, reports the Los Angeles Sentinel.
Willis served as chair of the sub-committee on HIV/AIDS. After having been diagnosed with AIDS and becoming a prominent voice on the issue of HIV/AIDS education, he has aggressively encouraged the NAACP to take on this issue as an important civil rights initiative since so many African Americans were suffering from health disparities associated with HIV/AIDS diagnosis, medical resources, and mental health counseling. Willis has also worked with the Minority AIDS Project.
Edwards worked for the late Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, as well as civil rights icons Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks. He led the campaign to get Rosa Parks on a U.S. postage stamp in 2006. Edwards also wrote and co-produced the critically acclaimed film The Rosa Parks Story which starred Angela Bassett.
Willis Edwards was 66-years-old.