Ms. Ruby Dee
WIFF Founding Honorary Chair

Ms. Vivica A. Fox
WIFF Honorary Chair

As the first African American woman to appear in major roles at the American Shakespeare Festival, Actor Ruby Dee called herself a “word worker.” “Ideas too,” she said.

“I love language and authors and music and how they can all interconnect. As an actor, I want to explore life and people rhythms and the sounds in the silences.”

Married for more than 50 years to the late Ossie Davis, their work together on the American social scene began with strident opposition to Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch-hunt in the 1950s and flowed into the civil rights movement a decade later.

They served as masters of ceremonies for the 1963 March on Washington. They’ve sued in federal court to ensure black voting rights, and they’ve been on the frontlines of latter-day efforts to protect equal rights for all.

In 2007 the winner of the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album was tied between Dee and Ossie Davis for With Ossie And Ruby: In This Life Together, and former President Jimmy Carter.  She was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 for her portrayal of Mama Lucas in American Gangster.

She won the SAG award for the same performance.

Ms. Ruby Dee passed away in her home in New Rochelle, NY in June 2014. She is dearly missed

Dynamic actress and producer Vivica A. Fox best known for her roles in the movies “Independence Day”, “Kill Bill” vol. 1 and “Set It Off” is originally from South Bend, Indiana. She moved to California to attend Golden West College where she obtained her Associate Arts Degree in Social Sciences.

While in California, she started acting professionally, first on soap operas such as “Generations” (1989), “Days of Our Lives” (1965) and “The Young and the Restless” (1973). In another early role, she played Labelle’s fashion designer daughter, Charisse Chamberlain, on the NBC TV series “Out All Night” (1992).

Her first big break was in the film “Independence Day” (1996) along with Will Smith and also “Set It Off” (1996). She has earned critical acclaim for her portrayal of “Maxine” in the 1997 motion picture “ Soul Food” (1997), which netted her MTV Movie Award and NAACP Image Award nominations.

Aside from being an on-camera personality, Vivica has had major success in stage, television, and film as a producer and businesswoman. Vivica teamed with VH1 to produce the reality show “Glam God,” and later with playwright and producer Je’Caryous Johnson to produce two touring plays which found her sharing national stages with Grammy Award winning singer Brian McKnight in “Cheaper to Keep Her,” as well as with heartthrob Boris Kodjoe and acting legend Richard Roundtree in Whatever She Wants.  Vivica also produced and starred in the cult favorite films “The Salon,” “Two Can Play That Game,” its sequel “Three Can Play That Game, Motives, and Getting Played.”

In 2000, she was cast in the medical drama series “City of Angels” (2000) as Dr. Lillian Price. She has had roles in many other movies ever since such as: “Teaching Mrs. Tingle” (1999), “Two Can Play That Game” (2001) and “Kill Bill: Vol. 1” (2003). Vivica also took another television role from 2004 to 2006 as she starred on and later became the executive producer of the drama series, “1-800-Missing” (2003) on the Lifetime Television Network. In 2007, she was a contender in _”Dancing with the Stars’ (2005/6)’ and stayed until she was voted off in the fourth week.

After successful stints touring on stage, and in reality television, Vivica returned to television in the hit HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm” with Larry David and JB Smoove.  For two seasons Vivica starred as Loretta Black and earned a newfound fan base!

 Since then, Fox has appeared in numerous television programs and films and has recently co-produced a reality show Vivica’s Black Magic for Lifetime Television after appearing in the movie Chocolate City in 2015. 

Today, Fox is a well-respected actress who continues to land prominent film and television roles, including playing the role of Candace in the Hit Television Series, Empire.  She is happier and more confident than ever. 

Ms. JoMarie Payton
WIFF Honorary Chair

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz
WIFF Honorary Chair

WIFF 2011 Honorary Chair JoMarie Payton, played the effervescent mom of the Winslow household for nine seasons on the hit show “Family Matters” (the longest running African American comedy TV Series).

The Harriette Winslow of “Family Matters” actually came into existence two years earlier with Payton as the tart-tongued elevator operator of the ABC-series, Perfect Strangers.” She became such a hit with viewers that the producers created “Family Matters” as a spin-off series to star her and cast Reginald Vel Johnson as her husband, Chicago police officer, Carl Winslow. Payton says she adored working with him, he was the best.

JoMarie Payton was born in Albany, Georgia, the second oldest of nine children and the oldest girl. Payton was three months old when the family moved to Opa-Locka, Florida, a suburb of Miami (currently know as Miami Gardens). Most of her brothers and sisters were born there. Her mother, a maid and her father, a construction worker, separated when she was eleven. My mother was a tower of strength,” says Payton, “but when she was at work all of the children looked to me to take care of things. I learned from my mother. She was my mentor, my biggest supporter, my role model.

Payton arrived in Los Angeles in the mid-seventies in the national touring company of the musical comedy “Purlie” with Robert Guillaume, a tour which began months earlier at the Coconut Grove Theatre in Miami. Popular locally as an actress, variety performer, and singer, she had been working in an accounting office when she learned that they were casting for the “Purlie” road company. With no music, no resume, no head shot and not even a car. My junior college instructor and friend John Pryor convinced me to try out and actually drove me to the audition. Payton talked her way onstage and auditioned a Capella, “I knew it was my time,” she recalls.

For more than 20 years, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has dedicated her public life to working on behalf of the people of South Florida. On January 4, 2005, she was sworn in as a member of the United States House of Representatives.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz represents Florida’s 23rd Congressional district, which encompasses parts of Broward and Miami-Dade counties. Before joining the U.S. Congress, she was first a Representative and later a Senator in the Florida State Legislature.

For the 115th Congress, Wasserman Schultz will serve on the House Committee on Appropriations and serve as ranking member of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee, which means she is the lead Democrat on that influential panel.

Wasserman Schultz will also serve on the Appropriations’ Energy and Water Subcommittee, where she can influence, among other vital issues, the funding challenges Florida faces in restoring the Everglades. In addition, Wasserman Schultz will sit on the House Committee on the Budget, a position that will allow the Congresswoman to influence an array of federal budgetary priorities. She also serves as a Chief Deputy Whip where she works to help advance legislation important to the Democratic caucus.

Rep. Wasserman Schultz is a person respected by her colleagues for her tenacity and her hard work on many important issues. In March 2009, after announcing her own battle with breast cancer, she introduced the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, or EARLY Act (H.R. 1740), a piece of legislation that directs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and implement a national education campaign about the threat breast cancer poses to all young women, and the particular heightened risks of certain ethnic, cultural and racial groups. This bill became law as part of the Affordable Health Care Act in March 2010. In 2014, she worked with Rep. Renee Ellmers (NC-2) to pass a bipartisan reauthorization of the EARLY Act (H.R. 5185) for five additional years. President Obama signed the reauthorization of the EARLY Act into law in December 2014.

A fighter for South Florida families, Rep. Wasserman Schultz has worked hard to protect children. Some of her accomplishments in the field include the passage of the PROTECT Our Children Act, which creates the largest law enforcement effort ever formed for the protection of children, and, the passage of the Virginia Graeme Baker Pool and Spa Safety Act to combat childhood drowning.

The first Jewish Congresswoman ever elected from Florida, Rep. Wasserman Schultz introduced a resolution, which passed the House of Representatives and called on the President to declare an annual Jewish American Heritage Month. The President subsequently did so, with the inaugural month in May 2006. Since then, Presidents have proclaimed Jewish American Heritage Month annually.

Congresswoman Yvette Clarke WIFF Honorary Chair

Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, CD, a Brooklyn native proud of her Jamaican heritage, attended the New York City public schools, graduated from Oberlin College, and was a recipient of the prestigious APPAM/Sloan Fellowship in Public Policy and Policy Analysis.

Prior to being elected to the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Clarke served on the New York City Council, representing the Fortieth District in Brooklyn. She succeeded her pioneering mother, former City Council Member Dr. Una S. T. Clarke, making them the first mother-daughter succession in the history of the City Council.

As the representative of the Ninth Congressional District of New York, she has dedicated herself to continuing the legacy of excellence established by the late Honorable Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman and Caribbean American elected to Congress. As an activist, a community organizer and now as a legislator, Congresswoman Clarke’s boldness, compassion and love for the people has
allowed her to become an effective leader and an outspoken advocate on numerous issues of great importance to her constituents.

In the 116th Congress, Congresswoman Clarke serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and the Committee on Homeland Security. She was elected as Vice Chair of the full Energy and Commerce Committee on January 15th, 2019. Congresswoman Clarke has demonstrated her capacity for leadership as Chair of the Multicultural Media Caucus, dedicated to eliminating stereotypes in the media and expanding ownership to include communities of color, as Co-Chair of the Smart Cities Caucus which serves as an informal group of Members dedicated to issues related to the transformation of our communities to smart cities, how it will bring about innovation and technological change, and the role that Congress can play in this transformation.

She is also the Co-Chair of the Black Women & Girls Caucus, which develops programs to support the aspirations of African American women of all ages, and is the Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus’ Immigration Task Force. Additionally, Congresswoman Clarke serves as Co-Chair of the Caribbean Caucus, where she has works to build the relationship between the United States and the Caribbean community (CARICOM) on matters of trade, immigration reform, and direct investment through development
programs. Congresswoman Clarke currently resides in the neighborhood where she grew up, in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn.

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