The East St. Louis branch of the NAACP is celebrating its 65th annual Freedom Fund awards banquet this Sunday at the Marriott in downtown St. Louis. Congressman John Lewis, D- Georgia, a well-known civil rights leader is the keynote speaker.
Lewis, born outside of Troy, Alabama, was inspired by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to join the civil rights movement.
Lewis led the demonstration that is now famously known as “Bloody Sunday.” He is referred to as one of the “Big Six” of the 1960s Civil Rights movement.
In 1961, he became one of the original Freedom Riders. In 1963, he became chairman of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and led the March on Washington. Lewis was elected to Congress in 1987.
“There are lots of things that we as a community and as a people that we have had to fight for to win,” said Stanley Franklin, president of the East St. Louis branch of the NAACP. “And, this year’s theme ‘When we fight, we win’ resonates in my mind. For over 400 years in this country, we have endured race riot, lynchings, black codes, oppression, sundown towns... We have gone from being property, not owning ourselves, to advance to becoming president of one of the most powerful countries in this world.”
Franklin said he expects a thousand or more people to attend this year’s banquet, particularly because Lewis is the keynote.
“They want to hear the message from the civil rights icon. We are getting calls from all over,” Franklin said.
Tickets range from $85 for a regular seat to $125 for a VIP seat. A VIP reception starts at 4:30 p.m, with the banquet to follow at 6 p.m.
Franklin said Lewis has done outstanding work in fighting for people’s civil rights in his lifetime and the night is about recognizing that and others who have done outstanding things to make a difference.
Mike Roberts, CEO and owner of Roberts Company in St. Louis will receive the outstanding businessman award. Debra Catchings- Smith, Grand Basileus of Sigma Gamma Rho, is to be recognized for her work in the community along with Reben Shelton, Grand Pole March of Kappa Alpha Psi.
The Game Changers Award goes to: State Rep. Latoya Greenwood from East St. Louis; St. Clair County Circuit Court Judge Zina Cruse; Bernadette Officer, CEO of Officer Funeral Home; Constance Gully from Parents as Teachers National Center; Tishaura Jones, treasurer from St. Louis.
The Lifetime Achievement award goes to Johnetta Haley, the former director of SIUE East St. Louis Center, and Dr. Edna Allen, a former educator who was over the gifted program for District 189.
The Athletic Achievement Award goes to former Olympic boxer and gym owner Arthur Johnson. The community service award goes to the East St. Louis Fire Department for their work in lowering insurance rates for home owners.
The Education award goes to Jeff Dosier, superintendent of Belleville Township 201, and Arthur Culver, superintendent of District 189.
The Economic Sustainability award goes to Billy Jean Miller, owner of Billy’s bakery on State Street. Franklin said she has been in business for 39 years at the same location.
An 8-year-old third grader from Dunbar Elementary is the recipient of the Rising Star award.
“From Kindergarten, she has been an honor roll student and has been winning spelling bees and other things. She is gifted and talented,” Franklin said.
The winners of the James Lewis Essay Contest will be awarded scholarships at the banquet, Lewis said.
“This year we had the highest number of entries that we have ever received —58,” Franklin said.
The essays come from students throughout St. Clair County. Also, the winners of the Charles Lawson award will be announced at the banquet. To win this award, students put together a scrapbook of things they’ve done.
Rene Knott, a morning anchor from KSDK television is one of the emcees. Kelly Hoskins, a weekend anchor at KTVI Fox 2, also will emcee the program. Larry McCulley, president of the Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, is chairman of the banquet. Former football great Dana Howard is co-chair and president and CEO of Zoie, a construction company.
For more information, call 618 -271-4698 or email secretaryestlnaacp @gmail.com