“Where are you? Why aren’t you fighting for these young people? If you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?” Lemon said, going on to specifically name celebrities like Jay-Z and Tyler Perry.
Headlines proclaimed that Lemon was “calling out” celebrities, and the CNN video of the broadcast was titled, “Don Lemon calls out Hollywood elite” — so you could see why some would assume that Lemon had, in fact, called out the Hollywood elite.
On Monday’s “Tonight Show,” Lemon clarified what he meant in a discussion with Jimmy Fallon.
“What I meant was not in a derogatory or negative way,” the journalist said, adding that he recognizes that some people may be stepping up and doing things that he’s just not aware of.
“But I have asked people to come on CNN many times, and even with this, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, I can’t do it. You know, I just ― Man, it’ll ruin my brand’ or ‘I’m worried about it. I can’t,’” Lemon said, adding that this message doesn’t just apply to celebrities. “If you don’t step up to those people who are standing on an abyss and trying to change things, when are you going to do it, Black or white?”
He went on:
“The reason I said that is because there’s a vacuum of leadership in this country, and we live in a very celebrity-driven society. And people listen to artists of all kinds ― rappers, actors, comedians. They listen, and you have a big voice and a big platform. And the reason I mention all those bold names that I mentioned is because I love those people, I respect those people, and they have a major, huge influence. And sometimes, if you’re doing things behind the scenes, you’re giving money — it’s very important; don’t get me wrong — but visibility is also extremely important, because young people need to be able to see that.”
Lemon explained he wasn’t trying to criticize people, but rather issue a “call to action” for everyone to do what they can during this critical moment.