Willis Edwards was the former head of the NAACP Beverly Hills whose legacy included building national honors for civil rights activist Rosa Parks and helping to make the NAACP Image Awards a televised national success. Rosa Parks specifically sought Edwards’s help for the civil rights institute. Later on, he fought for her to receive a Congressional Gold Medal.
Edwards served in a publicist capacity for many African-American notables, helping them to gain exposure that would skyrocket their careers. He worked on the 1998 presidential campaign for Rev. Jesse Jackson. That same year, Edwards would have a public dispute with talent Arsenio Hall, who called him an “extortionist” and “tennis-shoe pimp” to the public. The dispute landed in a court battle for defamation of character by Edwards. It was settled out of court.
An injured Vietnam veteran and Bronze Star recipient, Edwards not only fought local and national racial injustices, he also faced a diagnosis of HIV over 15 years ago. He nearly died of the AIDS virus before being given a regimen of life-saving medications. This was during the time that many people were unaware of the virus and many looked down upon those who had contracted the disease. Edwards survived his symptoms and became a spokesperson to the NAACP about HIV awareness in the black community.
Edwards, the former NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood President who believed that nothing was impossible, passed away from cancer last Friday at age 66.