DETROIT — The Detroit Branch NAACP held its 66th annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner. Governor Whitmer announced she will veto the voter reform bills brought by republicans in the legislature. She deemed the bills as an act of voter suppression. The annual conference featured community leaders, dinner chairpersons, and other dignitaries. During a pre-dinner press conference, Rev. Wendell Anthony, President Detroit NAACP, expressed the need to continue the fight against voter suppression.
“We can not rest. Right here in Michigan, we have the Blind 39, a set a bogus bills introduced by folks who know there is no voter fraud. or abuse who want to restrict absentee ballots to every eligible voter – put a new poll tax on voter I.D. – It is shameful.
The dinner which touts itself as the largest sit-down gathering in the world, scaled back its annual event in date and size due to COVID-19 restrictions. The Freedom Fund Dinner which usually seats nearly 10,000 guests in spring, held its conference Sunday evening in an intimate setting of the Grand Ballroom of TCF Center.
“From $100 million in small business aid, with resources directed toward women and minority owned businesses,” said Governor Gretchen Whitmer. “The racial disparities taskforce that tackled health disparities that was chaired by Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist, saved thousands of lives. It made lasting structural change.”
The Governor expressed before hundreds of people in a mostly Black audience, the need for voting reform and to oppose laws that make it difficult to vote. She stressed the importance of becoming a state that is “more inclusive and more just”.
The Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner was launched in April 1956 under the leadership of Branch President Edward M. Turner, Arthur L. Johnson, and Dr. Lionel F. Swan. The Freedom Fund Dinner was founded in a period of renewed national hope and determination among Black Americans, even in the face of continuing racial violence and tragedy.
The financial support for the annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner ensures that the long-storied civil rights organization remains on the front lines.
The annual event also honored community giants making a difference in big and small ways.
Receiving the Ida B. Wells LifeTime Achievement Award was Joyce Beatty, Congresswoman from Ohio. Arian Simon, co-founder of fearless Fund, took home the Great Expectation Award. For his years of legal service to the City of Detroit and Detroit Branch NAACP, Attorney John Johnson Jr., Executive Director for the Michigan Department of Civil Rights was honored with the W.E.B. Dubois Freedom v& Justice Award.
One of the honorees who stole the night was Bryant George. His work to bridge the gap in community relations between police and youth through mobile gaming received quite the applause. “This morning on my three-mile run, I just really thought about it, why set expectations?” George said as he took the moment on stage to talk about the importance of hold self responsibility, goal-setting, and being a positive example to young people who look up to him a role-model. “I take on the pleasure and responsibility of being a mentor to provide support to Black male students in Detroit and to help see a person like me and my profession in a different lens”.
George, a four-year police officer for the Detroit Police Department and Founder of Game Game Mobile received the Great Expectations Award.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a baby”, said Lt. Garlin Gilchrest. ” My grandma was the first person to bring me here, so it brings, back memories. I’m just proud that this always happens in Detroit and to be here about these important issues related to what we need to do to expand voting rights and to end voter suppression. That’s what we’re all about.”
The highlight of the night was the event’s special keynote speaker. Marcia Fudge, Secretary for the federal government’s Housing and Urban Development, echoed the calls for the continued fight and activism for civil right causes and the importance of equity. “Freedom. Freedom. I can’t move. Freedom, cut me loose.” said Fudge, barrowing a quote for the popular Beyonce hit song, Freedom. “I charge you to raise your voices, to raise your voice for voting rights and civil rights, for jobs and health care.”
Fudge has championed equity and the importance of affordable housing in her work and says under the Biden administration, the fight will always continue for the dignity of people to receive the needed resources despite the politics of Washington D.C.
“Many of these challenges feel all too familiar. Too many of us live in crumbling homes, poisoned by the paint on our walls or the water in our pipes,” Fudge said. “Our children are born behind, playing catch-up from the beginning”, she continued, “We cannot, we must not, rest on our freedom.”
For the past 44 years, the Detroit Branch NAACP has held its major fundraiser, the “Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner.” In 1999, the dinner was attended by 10,000 guests, including Vice President Al Gore as the keynote speaker. The event’s 1999 theme, “Leveling the Playing Field for the 21st Century, “called for continued focus to fight for equality and opportunity for all citizens of the United States.
This year’s theme called for the fight to continue on civil rights and many issues, but more importantly, not to “Rest on Your Freedom”.