This year’s theme for the 62nd annual East St. Louis NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet is “Our lives matter. Our votes count.”
Stanley Franklin, president of the NAACP’s East St. Louis branch, said: “It’s election year and we’re trying to make sure that we are doing our part in terms of registering the community to vote and informing them of the importance of their votes and the process.”
Franklin is looking for the community to come out in big numbers to support the NAACP. Tickets to attend the event on Sunday are $75 for general admission, and $150 for a VIP ticket. The banquet will be held at the Marriott Grand in downtown St. Louis at 800 Washington St. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the banquet starts at 6 p.m.
“It is key that we educate the community about the process of voting. And, we have been doing that. It matters who is representing our issues. Our issues have to be on the table and a part of the larger discussions,” Franklin said.
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He said a number of people in the community have been working tirelessly to make a difference. And their efforts will get them recognized by the NAACP with what the organization calls the Game Changer award.
“This award goes to people who meet the criteria set forth by the National NAACP office. The individuals are recognized for their impact on economic sustainability, education, health, public service and political representation,” he said.
Phillip Hickman, president of Associated Bank in East St. Louis, is receiving a Game Changer award. Franklin said Associated Bank invested almost $1 million in renovating the bank building. “This sends a message that they are here to stay,” he said.
Dwuan Warmack also will receive the award. Franklin said Warmack, the president of Harris Stowe State University, has had a huge impact in the area of education.
“He raised a huge amount of money in a short period of time for the university, and this helps a lot of students to attend school there. We thank him for his work,” Franklin said. “He’s one of the youngest presidents ever hired there and he is changing the game and having a stellar impact.”
Part of the night will be centered on the student essay contest in which 30 students from various schools submitted essays on the banquet’s theme. From a pool of 30, three are chosen to receive scholarships from the NAACP. The first-place winner gets a $2,000 scholarship. Second place is awarded a $1,500 scholarship and third place gets $1,000, Franklin said.
Some local residents will be recognized by the NAACP for work they’re doing. Among them are Herschel Garret and Peggy Lewis LeCompte. These individuals will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“Dr. Herschel Garret has been a dentist in the East St. Louis community for almost 40 years. He was one of the leaders who was instrumental in helping to bring the Jackie Joyner-Kersee Foundation a large amount of money. He has done a lot of civic things,” Franklin said.
Chad Cantrell from the Christian Activities Center will be given the organization’s Community Service award for the work he does through his center for young people in East St. Louis. Wendell Cunningham Jr., executive director of Matthew Dickey Boys and Girls Clubs in St. Louis, will also receive the Community Service award.
“He is from the Centreville area. He has a very renown family in the Centerville area. He has worked with young for approximately 23 years. He has done a lot in assisting young people in the things they’re doing athletically, and he has been a role model for a number of young kids. We want him to know we’ve noticed the work he’s doing,” Franklin said.
Then, internationally-known East St. Louisan Eugene Redmond will receive the organization’s Stellar award. The Stellar award is one of the highest awards the NAACP bestows on an individual.
Redmond is the poet laureate for East St. Louis. He formed the Eugene Redmond Writer’s Club and has taught a number of people locally, around the country and abroad about poetry. He’s a professor of English at SIUE- Edwardsville. He’s the founding editor of the “Drum Voices Revue. “He richly deserves this recognition,” Franklin said.
The organization also gives out a Medgar Evers award each year to someone who has made a big impact on the community. Evers was a civil rights activist from Mississippi who fought to end segregation at the University of Mississippi. He also fought for laws to provide social justice and civil rights. He organized voter registration drives, led demonstrations and boycotts of companies that practiced discrimination.
This year’s recipient of that honor is Archie Lawrence, an attorney who hails from Springfield.
Franklin said, “For a number of years he has fought the city of Springfield for fairness and equality for African-Americans. He is well-known to the community of Springfield for his tenacity, drive, strength, motivation and principle. He has raised tons of money to build a monument commemorating the race riots that took place in Springfield.”
The millenials will not be left out. This year the NAACP has a new award just for them. This award goes to young people who are making a difference. This year, Franklin said that young person is Jashara Bolden.
“She’s a game-changer. She started a not-for-profit organization that raises money for the homeless. She’s about 17 years old. She’s a senior in high school.” Franklin said.
The Minority Business award will go to John McIntosh, the president and CEO of New York Cleaners.
“John is a young man who took the reigns of the New York Cleaners in 1987 and has provided cleaning for the East St. Louis community and beyond, including Scott Air Force Base. He formerly provided cleaning for the St. Louis Rams. He got the contract in 1995 and maintained it until the Rams left. He’s a businessman who has made a big impact in the East st. Louis community. His business skills are second-to-none,” Franklin said.
The Veterans award is going to Retired Lt. Col. Gordon Bush.
“He has served his country. He is in the Army Reserves. And, he was highly recommended from the VFW for the work he does and has done to impact lives. Bush is a former mayor of East St. Louis and a former St. Clair County Board member,” Franklin said.
The Public Safety Award goes to Tim Tyler, commander of Illinois State Police District 11, which covers the metro-east.
“He’s in law enforcement but he also has reached out to the East St. Louis community in a variety of other ways. He participates in the Midnight Basketball program with young African-American men who were participating in basketball to come off the street. He participated in the National Night Out event in the city and then and now he continues to interact with the young people while engaging in basketball. He shows he cares and we want him to know we know he cares,” Franklin said.
Franklin said he is looking forward to a successful banquet and to having a packed house.
“We are looking forward to hearing our keynote speaker — the winner of the essay contest whose essay was written around this year’s theme ... And, we look forward to the community coming out to support our annual Freedom Fund Award Banquet and to say thank you to those who are really putting in work that is impacting our community in positive ways,” Franklin said.
Information about the banquet is available by calling 618-271-4698 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.