The 61st annual NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet brought out an array of people who support the mission and work of the NAACP. In the crowd that gathered at the Marriott Grand, there were lawyers, judges, community activists, educators, law enforcement personnel, prosecutors and more.
The theme of the event was “Pursuing Justice in the Face of Injustice.” Many awards were given out to people who Stanley Franklin, president of the local branch of the NAACP said have had a hand in changing the game and making things better.
Belleville Attorney Bruce Cook received a community service award. The Medgar Evers Award, one of the highest honors bestowed on an individual from the NAACP, went to attorney Pamela Meanes, who works for Thompson Coburn Law firm in St., Louis.
The James Lewis Essay and Scholarship awards went to four local students: First Place went to Andra Lang Jr., a senior at East St. Louis Senior High School. He will get a $2,000 scholarship. His essay was on liberty. He said, “To me, liberty means people having the right to do whatever they want, and being respected for what you do. For me, liberty is art. I am a painter. And the theme “Pursuing Justice in the Face of Injustice,” is important for all of us to be aware of. We need to be aware of what’s to come and fight for justice.” Lang is going to School of The Arts Institute in Chicago.
Second place winner Marvin Sanchez Crumble, a senior at Cahokia High School, said the theme of the event to him means “Being able to do what we want to without anybody throwing obstacles in front of us because of race gender or religion.” And, he said he is thankful to everyone who fought for and is fighting for justice for everyone. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said. He earned a $1,500 scholarship. He’s not sure what school he will choose, he said.
T’yon Leach, a senior at SIUE Charter School, and Von Williams II won third place for their essays. They will be given $1,000 scholarships each. Leach said the theme of “Pursuing Justice in The Face of Injustice,” is something all of us must do. He said he is particularly troubled by police brutality and the “killing of young men of color,” by some of the police who are supposed to protect the rights of all people. He plans to do what he can to be a “game changer.” in his lifetime. One of those ways will be “as a civil rights attorney,” he said because that is his goal. He plans to attend an historically black college or university. Williams, a senior at Belleville East High School, said he wrote about liberty. “It’s not just a noun. It’s an action. Everybody has a God-given right of liberty and justice.”
There were prayers for those who are out on the battlefield to continue to be strong and to continue igniting the spark that leads to a fire when it comes to fighting for justice in the face of injustice. Williams plans to attend college at Arkansas Pine Bluff.
Other students won the Charles Lawson award. Lawson is a former president of the East St. Louis branch of the NAACP. The students put together a scrapbook highlighting all of the activities they’re involved in, including community and student service and church activities. They all have to be seniors, Lora Jones, the treasurer of the East St. Louis branch of the NAACP and the chairman of the Lawson Award committee, said. The winners were Jacob Dorsey (First Place) Michael Parks II (Second Place) Symone C’ne Griffin, (Third place).
William Mason, president of Mason Landscaping said as he pondered the theme, “I am reminded that there is still a lot of inequity when it comes to jobs for African Americans, particularly in construction. There is not one black project manager on the construction jobs throughout the metro-east. I’ve been in East St. Louis since I was 9-years-old. I am 81-years-old now.”
Mason said he wished the same level of community involvement and money that community leaders put up to support the work of the NAACP could go to help the fight for jobs for people in East St. Louis and surrounding communities. He knows this would have a deep effect on crime, he said.
Dr. Dawn Porter, a Belleville psychiatrist, said, “The NAACP’s Gala event’s theme reminds us of the importance of collaborating as community leaders to bring about change. As a child and adolescent psychiatrist, I, all too often, see the effects of the injustices that face our youth through depression, anxiety, behavioral problems and poor academic progress. I am excited to see the NAACP’s efforts to bring together religious, business, educational and governmental leaders and youth leaders who have the power and resources as well as the support of the community to make a difference as we pursue liberty in the face of injustice.”
Dr. Lillian Parks got the Lifetime Achievement Award. Mechiko White, executive director of CASA was given a community service award. Game Changer awards went to several local pastors and others.
St. Clair County Circuit Judge Steven McGlynn said, “We’ve come a long way, but there are still instances where civil rights are violated because of race, gender or religion. I believe it is necessary that we continue to pursue justice; because we won an important civil rights battle in the past doesn’t mean we’ve won every civil rights battle.”
He said people have to have confidence in the justice system that everyone will be treated equal under the law. Pointing to the court system in Ferguson, McGlynn said said some people were disrespected and unfairly given tickets.
Franklin, president of the NAACP ESL branch highlighted the involvement of the young people in the NAACP. He said they sit in courtrooms as monitors. They traveled to Jefferson City, Mo., to let their voices be heard when Ferguson was on fire, following the death of Michael Brown, who was killed by a white police officer named Darren Wilson. Wilson was not charged. Franklin said young people are an important part of the NAACP and they are doing great things to make a difference.