Students Among Giants: NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner

Sitting at the table where decisions are made is a remarkable feat, but sitting at that table before you even graduate high school is even greater. Attending the NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner was one of the best moments of my life. If any student is given the opportunity to attend or volunteer, they should definitely take advantage of that offer. Many students from elementary school, middle school, and high school were able to attend the prestigious NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner. There were many accomplished people among the attendees for this dinner including Jewell Jones, Garlin Gilchrist, Gretchen Whitmer, Debbie Stabenow, Akon, April D. Ryan, Clifton Powell, and the Keynote Speaker, Kamala Harris. Additionally, the attendees consisted of lawyers, executives, media producers, and much more from across the state of Michigan. Being in a room with these people showed me the present and gave me a glimpse into the future.

Gretchen Whitmer
Credit: Cyndi Elledge

“It is critical to expose people to different possibilities and give them access and opportunities. This is the perfect place for young people because you have so many black and brown people, even white folk, from across the state of Michigan and outside of the state are here and doing wonderful things. It’s just a way for people to go up and simply hear from them or meet them. I think that gives people an extra boost to get them to the next level.” (Jewell Jones)

Several of the honorable guests spoke at the Cobo Hall event and many of them addressed subjects that resonated with students. Garlin Gilchrist spoke about his grandmother bringing him to his first NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner when he was just six years old. April D. Ryan, who is also a woman of color, spoke about her role as a White House Correspondent. Hearing speeches from people of their stature was truly life-changing. I got to hear about the experiences of being a person of color in a high place of power directly from those people themselves and that means more than words can express. During the dinner, I was able to walk around and converse with many people. The conversations I had with these esteemed leaders have broadened my perspective of power. They work to help the people, and I am glad to have walked among these great leaders.

 

“I’ve attended this event since I was six years old and I got a chance to meet people I otherwise wouldn’t have shared space with. I met Barack Obama at this event when he was a Senator three days after I graduated from college because he was the keynote speaker. It’s important for us to get exposed to people who are doing so many important and great things whose names we may not recognize. I’m proud and thankful that my grandma chose to bring me to this event with her every year.” (Garlin Gilchrist)

April D. Ryan
Credit: Cyndi Elledge

The NAACP Fight For Freedom Dinner celebrates student accomplishment as well. There was a held an Art and Essay Competition for the NAACP and the top three winners had their work displayed for everyone to see down the red carpet. These students ranged from second grade to high school seniors. The selected awardees of the competition were also invited to sit among the leaders of Detroit and attend the Dinner as well.

 

“Being in a room of over 10,000 beautiful faces was one of the greatest experiences that I’ve had. Hearing and seeing some of my favorite Senators and public figures speak is a moment that I’ll never forget. One of the most surreal moments was taking a picture with Kamala Harris. I didn’t get to speak much to her as much as I’d hoped, but it was still an unforgettable experience” (Davina from West Bloomfield High School)

Tonya Allen is a well-known presence in Detroit for the work she does as the CEO of the Skillman Foundation, a non-profit that supports and empowers the youth in Detroit. She says that “young people should be involved in the NAACP Dinner largely because it is one of the singular places where we get a chance to talk about the issues that are happening both in our country and in our city. We need our young people to understand what is going on in order to be involved, engaged, and influence the discussion that happens at dinner.”

The NAACP Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner would not be complete without the keynote speaker. Three of the four keynote speakers that have spoken at the NAACP Dinner since 2015 are currently running for President. Barack Obama spoke at the Dinner as a Senator in 2005 before he became the first black president for the United States of America. This year, Senator Kamala Harris was chosen to be the keynote speaker and she was a presence to behold. Out of everything she said, something that stuck with me is “Trump is not making American great, he is making America hate.” Her words on prison reform, gun violence, and education equality left the crowd roaring with excitement. Experiencing the energy of a Presidential Candidate in Detroit shows young people that they matter and that they can be apart of the change.

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