By Madeline Marcelia Garvin
Special to Frost Illustrated
This year’s 68th Annual Allen County NAACP Branch #3049 Marjorie D. Wickliffe Freedom Fund Banquet that occurred Sept. 7 at the Fort Wayne Coliseum, commenced at 7 p.m., and approximately 275 guests were welcomed by the zealous, avid NAACP supporter and Banquet Chairperson Sheila Curry-Campbell.
After an inspirational invocation led by the Rev. Dr. J. B. Pressey, stressing the fact that we are gathered “in remembrance of Medgar Evers, a man who gave his life for freedom,” attendees were reminded by NAACP Indiana State Conference President and National Board Member, Atty. Barbara Boling, the importance of the Voting Rights Act. As Boling pointed out, “The Voting Rights Act gave us the car and Section 4, which gave us the keys to drive it, is that which the Supreme Court has taken away from us. Thus, we need to encourage our Congress to reenact Section 4. Yet, while all of the aforementioned was transpiring, the State of Indiana was busy passing all types of laws to impact voters; for example; if the forms on which people register to vote are not submitted within ten days by those who are conducting the registration, the offending registrars are subject to a Class C Felony. Along with this, Indiana has now reduced the number of days in which people can vote early. And, even if the mail soliciting one for Jury Duty is returned due to being forwarded inaccurately, one can be removed from the voting rolls. While legislators were busy passing all of these laws we were sleeping.
“Next, Boling invited all to attend the Indiana NAACP State Convention, which is to be held Oct. 25 through Oct. 27, in Indianapolis at the Keystone at the Crossing Sheraton.
NAACP National Council Kim Keenan, Esq., followed the dynamic youth speaker Lorain Jones, who emphasized the importance of freedom, justice and equality. Ascending to the microphone, Keenan stated, “It was just mean to make me speak after Lorain, but we must honor that gift to lift up others, and I want you to know the higher hill the shorter the speech.” However, that which Keenan did emphasize was prolific. The flamboyant, exuberant Keenan delivered a succinct; but, poignant message regarding the esteemed 1950s and 1960s NAACP 1st Mississippi field secretary and the importance of voting, registering to vote and delivering a mandate to Congress to reinvigorate the Voting Rights Act.
Right off the bat, Keenan emphatically stated, “The 50 Year Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was a perfect storm, and 50 years ago, there was a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was also a perfect storm.”
And when we think about the Four Little Girls and Medgar Evers, that too, reiterated Keenan was a perfect storm. And, in remembering Medgar Evers, you need to know Medgar Evers, emphasized Keenan. For, Medgar Evers was one who was rejected from the University of Mississippi’s Law School, Barbara Boling, not because of his ability, but because he was black. Yet, he did not go home and complain and just give up. He became active with the NAACP and spent his entire career fighting for justice.
“One has to wonder,” exclaimed Keenan, “as we look at a perfect storm what his life would have been like if he had become that lawyer.”
But, as Keenan then said, Medgar went out and registered people to vote because he knew its importance, and the dream he had was where his children would live in a world where Jim Crow would go.
According to Keenan, today, what a perfect storm is like is sending children to jail on the school to prison pipeline, and all do not live and vote in an area like D.C. We, essentially, live in a world where there is Fort Wayne, Indiana; Wisconsin and Ohio. While I went there that night, remembering Medgar Evers, I remembered that while he could not attend the University of Mississippi, he made sure others could go. A couple of insightful questions posed by Keenan were as follows:
“Ask yourself if you are a people who would sit complacently on the back of the bus, or would you be one of those to walk in protest? Are you a people who would be turned away by a police car when being told that we’re not voting on Tuesday; but come on Monday?”
Keenan also purported that if you believe in voting rights, you will select a mayor who cares about your city and school board members who care about the students. Remember: “We want more people to vote—not less; yet, we are going to create laws to make it more difficult to vote. I am passionate about this,” exclaimed Keenan, because my parents had people discouraging them, and there are those who don’t want young people in college to vote because their college ID doesn’t have a date on it.
“When did we become those people?” asked Keenan. “This is what Medgar Evers died for, and he organized when we didn’t have Twitter, email or Gmail; and he never felt no ways tired.”
Drawing to a close, Keenan quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., by saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Remember: “There can be no triumph unless there is a trial. There can be no testimony unless there is a test, and there can be no diamond without a fire.”
“Our secret weapon,” exclaimed Keenan “is our history. Always remember there’s only one race, and it’s the human race.”
Though many salient points were made by the varied 2013 award recipients—and all were indeed worthy of their honors—that which was most significant were the recognitions bestowed upon the youth in the NAACP Youth Council, for they are the future. The 2013 Youth Council President’s Award was presented to Timothy A. Russell Jr., and the 2013 George Smith Community Service Award was presented to Marcus Underwood.
As usual, all political dignitaries were recognized along with NAACP Life members and various representatives of Alpha Phi Alpha, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Phi Beta Sigma and Zeta Phi Beta of the Divine Nine Fraternal Organizations, along with Links Inc. members. Regina Jones, the Urban League Guild President, stressed the importance of focusing particularly on youth in this community and quoted Joe Madison, the Black Eagle of Sirius Radio who said, “Movement requires a sacrifice; and greatness is not determined by your title; but, by the work you do.”
In her closing remarks, while recognizing the branch attorney, Phillip R. Terrill, Esq., with the Ming Award for outstanding service and support, the Rev. Dr. Saharra Bledsoe, the local NAACP president, acknowledged the presence of Mayor Tom Henry and stated that it is important to have a vision and have children know about their Civil Rights. With this, Bledsoe thanked all who came, and Pastor David Moore offered the Benediction reminding all that we will not quit and give up, ‘til freedom rings.
Sharing their thoughts regarding the banquet celebration were Mrs. Tonya Ashford; the current president of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. and Mrs. Alva Fuller, a retired FWCS educator, past president and Charter Member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. Ashford applauded Keynote Speaker Attorney Keenan because of her insightful, uplifting re marks; yet, she believes as a community, we still have much to do. Whereas, Fuller was quick to recognize the efforts and work of the Branch’s hostesses and those who made the effort to come out on a weekday.
This article originally appeared in the Sept. 11 print edition.