DETROIT — Kid Rock is known as a champion for Detroit — proudly displaying the Motor City in music videos, jumping in when an area summer festival fell on hard times and using money from his “Made in Detroit” clothing line to help start a college fund for local music students.
His work as a regional booster behind the scenes and in front of the camera has garnered him many accolades, including a Spirit of Detroit award at his 40th birthday bash in January. So recognition from the local branch of the NAACP should come as no surprise — except that Kid Rock, a longtime aficionado of Southern rock, also is known for using the Confederate flag in his on-stage act.
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, branch president for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, stands by the group’s decision to give Kid Rock its Great Expectations Award during the civil rights organization’s annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner, though to many, the Confederate flag remains a symbol of racism and oppression of blacks in the South. The NAACP in South Carolina has fought against a public display of the flag on statehouse grounds.
For Kid Rock, born Robert Ritchie and raised in a small rural community northeast of Detroit, it’s all part of his hard-partying, bad-boy stage persona. He declined to talk about it ahead of Sunday’s dinner, telling The Associated Press in a March interview that he would save his comments for the event, which typically attracts 10,000 people and is the Detroit NAACP chapter’s largest fundraiser.
“It’s a better audience and kind of a place to say how I feel about the whole thing, maybe to explain some things to some people,” Kid Rock said. “I think that will be a more appropriate place to speak my truth.”
One local gadfly, political consultant Adolph Mongo, said he will protest the dinner. He expects others to join him, though says there is no concerted effort.
“I’m going to be there voicing my displeasure,” Mongo said. “There is no organized effort. If you have to organize to get mad at the Confederate flag, then you have a problem.”
Anthony defended the group’s decision to give Kid Rock the award and said the Grammy-nominated musician isn’t a racist
“The NAACP in Detroit does not support no Confederate anything,” Anthony said, offering no apologies for Kid Rock and his performances that include the Confederate flag. “We don’t support the Confederacy, the Confederate flag, racism or any of those things. Neither do any of the folks we associate ourselves with.”
It may seem strange on the surface that one of the largest chapters of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization is bestowing an award on a man who for decades extolled the virtues of the party lifestyle and described himself in song as the “Pimp of the Nation.”
But Kid Rock has long been a supporter of his hometown and a multitude of local philanthropic pursuits.
He owns the “Made in Detroit” apparel line, which he bought in the early 1990s, and he recently established the Made in Detroit Endowed Scholarship through Wayne State University in Detroit to help offset tuition costs of students from throughout southeastern Michigan who are selected for their academic achievements and limited financial resources.
Wayne State spokeswoman Francine Wunder said she and Kid Rock talked about how “Wayne State students are literally and figuratively made in Detroit — becoming who they are in Detroit.”
Kid Rock and his family-run foundation also have supported the Detroit-based Karmanos Cancer Institute’s research and patient care. His donations have included cash gifts, guitars and even an invitation to dinner — to the highest bidder, said Nick Karmanos, vice president of development.
“I think one of the main reasons for his support is we’re in Detroit … where we’re at and the community we serve,” Karmanos said.
“He certainly doesn’t fit our typical profile, but he is as generous as many donors.”
Just last week, Kid Rock surprised students at Romeo High School, his alma mater, with a visit, during he which he dropped off a donation to the school’s music program. And in 2009, Kid Rock kicked in to help the cash-strapped Arts, Beats & Eats festival in suburban Detroit, having “Made in Detroit” sponsor a stage at the annual Pontiac event.
During a 40th birthday party celebration/concert in January at the city’s NFL stadium, no less a voice of Detroit than City Council President Charles Pugh presented Kid Rock with the Spirit of Detroit award. Pugh said nobody “better represents” the city’s heritage of being the nation’s “motor capital,” birthplace of Motown Records and reputation as a rock ‘n’ roll haven.
“Kid Rock wears Detroit from head-to-toe. He has been a Detroit booster,” Anthony said, noting that such efforts contributed to the performer being given the award. “Detroit needs boosters, people who can proclaim our fame in spite of these most difficult times.”
And It has been a difficult past few years for the Detroit NAACP chapter.
The organization owes back taxes on its properties, though Anthony said the organization has worked out a plan with the city and Wayne County.
Still, the dinner remains a big draw.
“Detroit, in its very, very serious economic times, can still draw more people at an event like this one,” Anthony said. “It’s a testimony to the people of Detroit.”
This year’s keynote will be given by civil rights pioneer John Lewis. Past keynote speakers include President Bill Clinton, then-Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., Obama’s former pastor.