By: Tony R. McCray, Jr.
The NAACP Pensacola Branch held its 26th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet on Saturday August 6th at New World Landing in Downtown Pensacola. The theme was “Our Lives Matter, Our Lives Count”! The NAACP Pensacola Branch leadership weaved the youth council members into the program’s agenda and in a complementary effort honored elders of the past and present civil rights movement.
Dr. Marion Williams presided as Master of Ceremonies and provided serious commentary in addition to comedic quips to keep the audience of approximately 300 persons laughing again and again. Lewis Jennings, NAACP Area Director for Northwest Florida brought greetings from himself and the Florida State Conference President Adora Nwesie. His comments included a congratulatory acknowledgement of the work of the Pensacola Branch President, Eladies Sampson. However, the highest congratulatory acknowledgement of the evening came from a surprise visit by a NAACP official of the highest order, Roslyn Brock, the National Chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors. Brock, the daughter of Eladies Sampson, brought greetings from the national board of directors and stated that last year the video greeting she sent was inoperable so she wanted to make up for that with a personal presentation. Her presentation on the role of the NAACP in this present political environment and the importance of the vote in this year’s election showed the leadership and conviction of a true national leader.
Pastor Rodney Jones of New World Believers and the 2nd Vice President of the Pensacola Branch brought the Occasion with the energy and delivery motivation of a keynote speaker. Jones utilized the Occasion of the banquet to focus on the history of the oldest NAACP branch in the State of Florida and one of the oldest in the nation. For example Jones gave an important piece of local NAACP history when he stated, “The National Organization approved for the formation of the Pensacola Branch as its first branch in Florida on July 14, 1919 because of the racial tension and injustices in the area. According to Robert W. Saunders, a formal NAACP field secretary and author of “Bridging the Gap” the Pensacola branch in its effort to continue the Florida NAACP Legacy of Harry T. Moore, initiated legal recourse in the case of Vernon McDaniel, then principal of Booker T. Washington High School, which bolstered the Branch. Because of this NAACP case filed in January 1940 local (school) authorities faced a probable adverse decision and offered a compromise leading to salary equalization for Black teachers. This was a victory that impacted the community of color on all levels, economically, socially, and morally. This victory was a catalyst that fostered a kinship in the struggle for equality amongst the citizens of color in Escambia County. During the 60’s the quest for equality led to the Pensacola downtown store boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins for equal treatment and pay”. Jones ended with the following statement, “In 2016 in an effort to acknowledge the importance of our youth and their contribution to our community we started the Young Entrepreneurs Award. Today the Pensacola branch continues the fight from the courtroom to the boardroom to the classroom. The location for of the fight has changed, but the mission has not changed. We continue to fight daily for all citizens rights because, ‘OUR LIVES STILL MATTER AND OUR VOTES DO COUNT’!
The focus on local youth achievement continued when the following 2016 Rev. B.J. Brooks Scholars were honored: Faithe Franklin, West Florida High School; Tyanna Livinton, Escambia High School; Abri’ McDaniel, West Florida High School; Saraiah Morgan, Escambia High School; and Taylor Wilkerson, Booker T. Washington High School.
Community achievement awards were also presented to: Dr. Shirley Lewis-Brown for Community Service Award; AKA Sorority, Inc. for Organization Award; The Gathering Awareness for the Industry/ Business Award; Thomas Booker for the Young Entrepreneurship Award; and Ramon L. Harvey for the Robert Walker , Jr. Award.
With all of the civil rights history and NAACP organizational vitality already flowing, the true Keynote Speaker Rev. Dr. Isaac Williams was introduced by the 1st Vice President of the Branch, Rev. Alvis Collins. Williams brought a “Sunday Sermon-styled” delivery to his keynote address where he made the case like a seasoned attorney, “Why do I have to make a choice between two moral choices of Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter”?
He made the case that the two convictions of lives that matter can coexist and should coexist. The presentation was in sync with the newspaper headlines of today and Williams brought his message with the ferocity of a Man-of God that truly believed in the stand that he was taking. With the applause he received from the audience in addition to the support he received from the amen corner throughout his speech their response showed a NAACP community in agreement!