Evidenced by the growing interest and support of the Sampson County Branch of the NAACP, the day of the group’s Freedom Fund Banquet has become a special occasion.
Saturday, October 1, 2016, on the morning of the day of the local branch’s 16th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet, over a hundred community members were involved in the “March On Sampson County For A Better Future For Our Youth.” This annual event, held on the same day of the Freedom Fund Banquet, was coordinated by the branch’s First Vice President Dwight Miller.
Starting at 9:30 a.m., the major highlight of this event was the 1.8 mile walk from the Sampson County Agri-Expo Center in Clinton to the downtown courthouse and back to the civic center. While at the courthouse, the group was led in prayer by Bishop Varnie Fullwood of the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church.
After returning to the civic center, participants in the march were involved in a community forum where they listen to speakers, were entertained by a local step team group and enjoyed an indoor picnic lunch.
Later that day, as the 6 o’clock p.m. hour neared, it appeared that all the roads were leading to 414 Warsaw Road, Clinton, the home of the Sampson County Agri-Expo Center and the venue for the Sampson County Branch of the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet. There, hundreds of people gathered for the annual event, which has become a major social gathering and awards show for the local community.
Acting as Master of Ceremonies, Mr. Marcus Bass, a Clinton native and graduate of NC A&T and who is currently affiliated with Democracy North Carolina, helped settle the banquet-goers into an evening of inspiring words, uplifting music and a delectable meal. Similarly, the mood and tenor of the evening were further enhanced by Bishop Darue Bryant, who in the opening prayer, spoke about “coming together, putting our differences aside.”
Next, the whole assembly was asked to stand, while Minister Leslie Simpson led everyone in “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” accompanied by pianist Mr. Anthony Worley. Historically, this song has been a source of pride for African Americans.
Among the many highlights of the evening were a special greeting by Clinton Mayor Lew Starling, who applauded the presence of the youth; the welcome by local branch president Mrs. Lee Byam, who stressed the importance of building coalitions with local organizations; and brief remarks from the NC NAACP Fourth Vice President, Mr. Courtney Patterson, who reminded the attendees of the continued relevance of the national NAACP as the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country.
Following dinner and the introduction of the keynote speaker, The Honorable Paul A. Hardison, the banquet-goers had the opportunity to hear an encore presentation, which, according to the local NAACP leaders, did not disappoint. As the first African American Chief District Court Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, presiding in Onslow, Jones, Duplin and Sampson counties, Judge Hardison has dealt with many issues concerning the youth that come before his court.
Adhering to the theme – “Ensuring Justice Through Educating Our Youth,” Hardison emphasized, “We all can be role models,” steering our youth to better things. And he particularly stressed to the youth, parents and teachers, the need to “quit the blame, step up the game,” saying we must hold young people responsible for their own actions.
As those young people commit to applying dedication, hard work and perseverance, the Sampson County Branch of the NAACP has continued to expand its commitment in providing scholarship assistance to the county’s local youth. At the recent Freedom Fund Banquet, the local branch recognized its 2016 four scholarship recipients which included Aleah Parker, Jairus Salmon, Eden Cabrera and Maya Simmons.
Along with the recognition of the scholarship recipients, the awards given to individuals for their outstanding contributions to the community generate a great deal of interests and excitement, too. For 2016, the Community Service Award went to Representative Larry M. Bell, Sr., who is running for his ninth term in the NC General Assembly, representing House District 21, which includes parts of Duplin, Sampson and Wayne counties. Before his election to the state legislature in 2000, Dr. Bell had served 35 years as an educational professional in the capacity of school teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and as the Sampson County Schools Superintendent from 1990~1996.
The Community Leadership Award went to Mr. Marcus Bass for his work with various community organizations and his deepening involvement in community activism in the struggle for social justice and equality.
By all accounts, the Sampson County Branch of the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet for 2016 was a tremendous success. And for the fourth consecutive year, banquet chair Mrs. JoAnn Howard led the group in organizing the event and in making the community more aware of the local NAACP’s mission and vision.
In expressing her appreciation for the generous support from the many facets of our community life, Mrs. Howard reiterated, “We thank you for your loyal support of our 16th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet. You have been right by our side the whole way and for that, we are both grateful and humbled.” In concluding her remarks, she stated, “We are encouraged by this year’s attendance and that your continued support will ensure our success with the 2017 Annual Freedom Fund Banquet. We look forward to seeing you next year!”
For more information about joining the Sampson County Branch of the NAACP by renewing your membership or becoming a new member, the local branch invites you to attend the general membership meeting every fourth Monday at 6 p.m. at First Baptist, 900 College St., Clinton. •