Detroit Branch NAACP’s Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner returns Sunday

In a typical year, the Detroit Branch of the NAACP would greet thousands downtown on a spring evening at the TCF Center to honor civil rights leaders.

As the 2020 pandemic struck southeast Michigan, the group’s annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner was postponed to fall in a virtual ceremony.

This year, the fundraiser, one of the nation’s biggest sit-down dinners, returns in person, but in a different format.

At the event on October 3, only a fraction of the traditional 10,000 participants are expected, who should be socially distant with requirements for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Reminders of the ongoing virus and the “don’t rest on your freedom” theme underscore the need to focus the meeting on activism if issues such as voting rights, racial discrimination and economic inequality persist, say the organizers.

“We have a choice in the city. We’re going to have an important election next year – we can’t let people cast our vote, ”said Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP Detroit office. “We can’t watch politicians in Lansing or DC push us back 50 years by reducing our impact. … We cannot afford to go back. We don’t want to lose anything. “

Attendees observe a minute's silence for the late Judge Damon Keith at the NAACP's 64th Annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner at the Cobo Center in Detroit on May 5, 2019.

The 66th Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner is set to toast numbers in Michigan and across the country who have campaigned for urgent problems.

The keynote speaker is Marcia Fudge, Secretary of the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The former congresswoman is “a passionate advocate of fair housing and expanded housing for Americans across the country,” said the Detroit Branch NAACP last week in a statement announcing her admission.

This month, HUD announced that it has allocated nearly $ 5.2 million to programs to tackle young homelessness in Detroit.

“With all of the (Biden) government’s emphasis on Build Back Better, especially given the floods and the need for equal housing and infrastructure, Detroit is certainly a key city in this rebuilding effort,” said Anthony. “We are happy that she is coming.”

Marcia Fudge

The Ida B. Wells Freedom and Justice Award goes to Ohio MP Joyce Beatty, Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus who was arrested last summer for campaigning for the right to vote.

Also during dinner, John E. Johnson Jr., who became Executive Director of the Michigan Department of Civil Rights that year, receives the WEB Du Bois Freedom and Justice Award.

The attorney previously held executive positions with the Detroit Branch NAACP, the Michigan Legislative Black Caucus, and the Legal Aid and Defenders Association. According to his department biography, he was also a business consultant for the City of Detroit and a business consultant at Legal Services Corporation in Washington, DC.

Johnson said he was “humble” to deserve the award in turbulent times for the NAACP and its division.

“At the same time the country has seen the worst global pandemic in a century – a tragedy that has had devastating and disproportionate effects on the people our organizations serve – we have seen an alarming resurgence of white supremacy, racial and ethnic intimidation and bias. “And hate crimes and an unprecedented attempt to reduce voting rights,” he said in a statement.

“While we as a nation have certainly made progress since WEB Du Bois founded the NAACP, its struggles – to incite racism, end discrimination in employment and education, face our history, and speak the truth about our racial hostility legacy – is amazingly familiar to the NAACP today and to all of the people who are still working to build a more just and just society. “

Another award winner is Hassan Jaber, President and CEO of the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, or ACCESS for short. He receives the James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Awardee “for 16 years of exemplary leadership and service that inspires generations of people focused on improving the quality of life,” said the coordinators.

One of two Great Expectation Award winners will be Detroit police officer Bryant George. He is the founder and operator of Game Game Mobile and More LLC, the

offers video game and virtual reality experiences and was active in the Detroit Police Athletic League.

George “bridged the gap between law enforcement and the people in our community,” said Anthony.

The official said he started his business to create positive interactions after George Floyd died in an encounter with Minneapolis police last year.

Returning to the Freedom Fund Dinner as an award winner is a chance to network and find more motivation, he said. “I always look forward to seeing everyone waging a good faith battle from sunrise to sunset to ensure that children and adults in our church here have access to fair opportunities and resources to live normal lives.”

In addition to local leaders, past Freedom Fund dinners drew speakers such as Rev. Jesse Jackson, United States President Barack Obama, former Secretary of State and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

The first keynote speaker was Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall in 1956. In 2019 it was the future Vice President Kamala Harris, then a California Senator and presidential candidate.

U.S. Senator Kamala Harris delivers the keynote address at the NAACP's 64th Annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner at the Cobo Center in Detroit on May 5, 2019.

Believing every dinner to be a call to action, Anthony believes the country faces mounting hate crime and political upheaval, including Michigan lawmakers introducing bills to change state electoral laws this year.

Participants might be inspired to think, “I have to do something,” said Anthony. “‘I have to open my mouth, I have to occupy myself, I have to get up and I have to speak my mind and I have to work on this freedom path.’ ”

Registration and tickets for the event are available online or by calling the Detroit Branch NAACP at (313) 871-2087.

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