Image: Kid Rock performs at Ford Field in Detroit
Carlos Osorio  /  AP
Kid Rock performs during the half time ceremony at the NFL game between the Detroit Lions and the New England Patriots at Ford Field in Detroit, Nov. 25. The Detroit NAACP is giving their Great Expectations Award to Kid Rock for his advocacy of the city, drawing some criticism because the Grammy-nominated artist has used the Confederate flag during stage performances.
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updated 5/1/2011 9:37:40 PM ET 2011-05-02T01:37:40

Grammy-nominated artist Kid Rock told nearly 10,000 people at the Detroit NAACP branch's annual fundraising center in Detroit that his use of the Confederate flag during on-stage performances has nothing to do with how he feels about blacks.

"I love America. I love Detroit, and I love black people," the musician said Sunday night during the annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner at Cobo Center.

Kid Rock, whose real name is Robert Ritchie, used the event to diffuse criticism aimed at the Detroit NAACP branch which honored him with its Great Expectations Award.

The Macomb County, Mich., native said his use of the flag derives from a popular song by country music legends Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Earlier a group of about 60 people picketed outside Cobo Center in protest of the decision to honor Ritchie. The group also burned a replica of the flag, considered a symbol of racism and oppression to blacks in the South.

Detroit NAACP President Wendell Anthony said Ritchie was being honored for his advocacy of the city.

"We're not lifting up the flag," Anthony said earlier Sunday. "We're lifting up a gentleman who has worked very hard to be a booster for Detroit."

Image: Group protests Kid Rock at NAACP event
Kathleen Galligan  /  Zuma Press
A group protesting against honoring Kid Rock at an NAACP event burn a Confederate flag outside the 56th Annual Detroit Branch NAACP Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner at Cobo Center, Sunday, May 1, 2011. ''It's an ugly symbol of hatred. They might as well sing the battle hymn of the republic after dinnier,'' said Adolph Mongo, far right.

From the time it was first announced, the choice of Kid Rock as honoree has been criticized by some who said the use of the Confederate conflicts with the NAACP's message.

"It stands for hatred, bigotry, racism, murder," Detroit political consultant Adolph Mongo said. "Every bigot and racist in this country loves that flag."

Mongo helped ignite the flag about 5 p.m. It took several attempts with a cigarette lighter before the flag caught fire to chants of, "Burn, baby, burn."

But Ritchie, who appeared at the event with his son, received a loud applause when he was introduced and again when he stood to accept the award.

theGrio opinion: Why the Confederate flag is still flying high

He announced $50,000 in donations from his foundation to Detroit recreation centers, a conservancy on the city's Belle Isle, a youth theater group, a youth training agency and Habitat for Humanity.

Ritchie also announced that his foundation would be donating $50,000 to storm relief efforts in tornado-ravaged states.

"We're fortunate enough that we haven't been touched by Mother Nature like our friends in the South have," he said.

"That's what Detroit city is all about," Ritchie added in announcing the donations.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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