R.I.P. Willis Edwards

Waking up this morning I scrolled through my phone’s RSS feed which includes feeds from CNN to find “Civil Right Pioneer and President of Beverly Hills NAACP chapter Willis Edwards dies at 66.” I immediately went into “wait… who… wait… is that…?” So I took out the laptop and my thought was confirmed.

Bright and lively Willis Edwards passed at ONLY 66. Having been introduced to the political scene last year beginning with my time in LAAAWPPI, I remember Willis coming to speak to/with us about the efforts of the NAACP. And while most some of us felt those efforts were few and far between, my beloved classmate Shannon was the voice and showed high concern and had many questions for Edwards. And also, while he went on to try and explain, he knew she was not receiving satisfaction from his answers. But what made Willis Willis was how he ended and what he said next. While I don’t remember verbatim what he said, the sentiment was “well sista, come on over we could use you in the fight” and smiled and motioned to come on. And she, we, knew this was true.

I then saw Willis in action and then understood why EVERYone knew Willis. At the Urban League anniversary, I remember him standing up and dancing, joking and having a presence of fun an light-heartedness. It’s very sad to hear this news but I wish his soul much peace and rest and hope his work and chapter lives on.

(CNN) — Willis Edwards, longtime president of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch of the NAACP and key to launching the NAACP Image Awards on national television, died Friday in Mission Hills, California, according to a spokeswoman for Providence Holy Cross Medical Center.
Edwards, born in Texas and raised in Palm Springs, California, was 66.
The cause of the civil rights pioneer’s death was not immediately available.
Edwards became active in politics while attending California State University, Los Angeles, according to TheHistoryMakers.com, which preserves the life stories of thousands of African-Americans.
Edwards served on the Social Services Commission after Tom Bradley was elected Los Angeles mayor, according to Lauren Tobin, a spokeswoman for the Edwards 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.
Edwards, who was vice president of development and planning for the Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute, also led the campaign to get Rosa Parks on a U.S. postage stamp in 2006.
Edwards was also close to many in the entertainment, civil rights and political worlds.
“Willis Edwards was a national leader for the NAACP and a partner with the City of Los Angeles in the struggle for equality and justice for all people,” Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa said in a statement. “I was proud to call him a personal friend for over 20 years in the struggle for civil liberties.”
Others echoed that sentiment.
“Willis was that guy who really found the joy and beauty of people. But in hindsight, he had probably been the only one like him in many rooms,” California Attorney General Kamala Harris told CNN. “He was always exuberant in his infectious belief that being present and involved in the electoral process makes a difference. He was a dear friend.”
Edwards, who was HIV-positive, was a strong advocate for AIDS-related issues.
“I remember having dinner with Willis Edwards in Philadelphia at the NABJ (National Association of Black Journalists) Convention in 2011. He was never ashamed of his HIV-positive status and proudly proclaimed, ‘I fought AIDS to a standstill,'” said CNN assignment editor Greg Morrison.
“He was a vibrant man who engaged in conversation with everybody he met,” Morrison added. “His passion was making sure the African-American community addressed the issue of AIDS education without flinching.”
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.”

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