Top NAACP national counsel keynote for 2013 Freedom Fund Banquet

| August 30, 2013
Kim Keenan

Kim Keenan, Esq. is National NAACP general counsel.

FORT WAYNE—While most people recognize the NAACP as a venerable “civil rights” advocacy organization, many people don’t realize that it has a history of trying more than discussion and friendly persuasion to institute change.

In fact, some of the organization’s most memorable victories, sometimes won by the associated NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund—including the landmark Morgan v. Virginia of 1946 challenging segregation on interstate buses and trains, 1950’s Sweatt v. Pinter and Laurin v. Oklahoma case which knocked down segregation in graduate school and the famous Brown v. Board of Education Topeka, Kansas of 1954 dismantling school segregation—have been in the courtroom.

In the wake of new legal challenges to many of the nation’s politically and economically disenfranchised, such as the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent overturning of key portions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and various states’ moves to institute what some say are restrictive voter ID laws akin to the poll taxes of old, it seems that the keynote speaker for the  NAACP Fort Wayne/Allen County Branch 3049 68th Annual Marjorie D. Wickliffe Freedom Fund Banquet—scheduled for 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sept. 5 at the Memorial Coliseum—represents the highest echelon of the national rights organization.

The theme for this year’s Freedom Fund Banquet is “Remembering Medgar Evers: Our Future of Equity and Justice.” Edgars, the first Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP during the 1950s and 1960s, was instrumental in instrumental in organizing a number of boycotts and setting up new NAACP chapters in Mississippi. Edgars also conducted a public investigation into the 1955 murder of Emmett Till and helped James Meredith with his 1961 efforts to enroll in the University of Mississippi, effectively desegregating the institution. Edgars was murdered by white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith in 1963. De La Beckwith was not convicted of the crime until 1994.

Appropriately, the scheduled speaker for this year’s Freedom Fund Banquet is Kim Keenan,  Esq., National NAACP general counsel. Along similar lines, emphasizing the NAACP’s more than a century of fighting for civil rights, the theme for this year’s ban

Keenan, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., is a graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service and the University of Virginia School of Law and a former member of the University of Virginia Law Alumni Council. After law school, she served as the law clerk to the Honorable John Garrett Penn in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. She is currently the General Counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Keenan’s career demonstrates a strong commitment to important issues affecting women and people of color, public service, and improving the legal profession. She served as the 62nd president of the National Bar Association (NBA), the oldest and largest bar association of lawyers of color in the world with a network of more than 50,000 lawyers, judges, and law students. She is the first woman from the District of Columbia to be elected to this position and only the eighth woman in the organization’s 86-year history to serve in the NBA’s highest elected office. During her tenure as president, the NBA deployed thousands of lawyers throughout the nation to educate voters regarding new voting laws. The Maryland Bar Foundation awarded her their Professional Legal Excellence Award for her national effort to provide nonpartisan voter education. She is also a past president of the Washington Bar Association, one of the oldest and largest affiliates of the NBA which was founded in the same year of the NBA.

Her commitment to the community extends beyond the legal profession. She is a member of the Capitol City Chapter of the Links Inc. She has served as the appointed Chair of the American Lung Association’s (ALA) national Diversity Committee and is a member of its National Assembly She has spoken by invitation to the National ALA board and provided diversity training to it national staff as well as a national law firm. She was the first African American elected to serve as president of the District of Columbia Rape Crisis Center, one of the nation’s largest resource centers for survivors of sexual assault.

Prior to joining the NAACP, she was the principal of the Keenan Firm in Washington, D.C., where her practice has focused on complex medical malpractice litigation, mediation and arbitration, litigation consulting, and public speaking. Before that, she served in the litigation practices of two nationally recognized law firms for more than 18 years. She was recently honored as a Washington, D.C. Super Lawyer and is recognized as a Top Lawyer by Washingtonian Magazine. In May 2007 the Women’s Bar Association named her “Woman Lawyer of the Year” for her contributions to the profession. She is currently the immediate past president of the District of Columbia Bar, the second largest jurisdictional bar in the country. Although she was the 38th president of the organization, her service marked only the eighth time that a woman has served as president.

In addition to the scheduled keynote address by Keenan, the local NAACP is slated to hand out a number of awards, honoring people in various fields who have worked to ensure quality and justice for all. This year’s awardees include:

Medgar Evers Lifetime Achievement Award: Winfield Moses

Marjorie D. Wickliffe Community Service Award: Kevin Howell and Brenda Robinson

Thurgood Marshall Outstanding Business Person Award: Attorney Tiffany Gooden

Rev. James Bledsoe Unsung Hero Award: William Crowley

Dr. Bernard Stuart Health Award: Gwendolyn Morgan, Esq.

Economic Empowerment Award: Wells Fargo’s Terrece Jordan-Hill

Dr. James Breedlove Education Award: Debra Faye Williams Robbins

Charles Redd Voter Empowerment Award: Maye Johnson

Attorney Edward Smith Community Service Award: Thomas Essex, Esq. and Jack Morris, Esq.

The co-chairs for the event are Mitch Harper and Sharon Tucker. The Dr. W.E.B. Dubois Premier Sponsor for the banquet is Parkview Health.

The Fort Wayne Branch 3049 Monthly meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m., the fourth Thursday of each month at the Allen County Public Library (Downtown Branch) Meeting Room C. The Youth Council meetings are scheduled for 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., the first and third Monday of each month at the Allen County Public Library Pontiac Branch.

For more information about the 68th Annual Marjorie D. Wickliffe Freedom Fund Banquet or other NAACP activities, call (260) 426-3049; or visit www.fortwaynenaacp.org or www.facebook.com/fortwaynenaacp.

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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