Detroit Free Press: NAACP Freedom Fund dinner attracts thousands

By Tammy Stables Battaglia

U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California sent a message of active involvement to guests of the Detroit NAACP’s largest annual gathering Sunday at Cobo Center.

“Today Detroit is still engaged in a great freedom walk … and a campaign to preserve the dignity of all Americans,” said Pelosi, the Democratic House minority leader, in a nod to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the 58th annual Fight for Freedom Fund dinner

Pelosi, the event’s featured speaker, encouraged nearly 5,000 guests to forge ahead with the Detroit chapter’s goals of economic sustainability, education, health and healthcare access, public safety and criminal justice and voter empowerment.

“You’re game changers. … You give us a path,” Pelosi said. “These game changers are essential … to strengthening the middle class, the backbone of democracy. If we don’t make those game changers a reality, our middle class will be weakened. … Clearly we have work to do.”

Pelosi said the U.S. must address economic disparity, including making the minimum wage a living wage. She said CEO salaries now average 350 times the wage of the average worker.

Pelosi also said that all children must have access to good schools.

“Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education,” she said.

She also asked attendees to help other people navigate the new health care system. And she asked guests to support President Barack Obama’s budget quest.

“We need your help calling for a budget that reflects our values,” she said. “Right now the president is not receiving the cooperation any president should receive.”

Pelosi, adding that she traveled to a memorial dedication at the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Ala., on Saturday before making her way to Michigan, pointed out that the Detroit NAACP has always been at the forefront of civil rights activism.

Her message reverberated with the Detroit NAACP’s president, the Rev. Wendell Anthony.

“We did not invite Nancy Pelosi here tonight because she is a Democrat,” he said. “We invited her here tonight because she has been a champion of the issues that are important to all of us.”

The dinner took place in the cavernous hall that typically hosts the North American International Auto Show. Guests arrived through a hallway created with red and white curtains, lined with flower arrangements and volunteer greeters, to a room filled with 10-person round tables.

The crowd was a who’s who of metro Detroit, with political, business and community leaders mixing with everyday citizens supporting the largest NAACP branch in the U.S.

Marcella Jones, 51, of Detroit was at the dinner with her daughter Dajanay, 4 – the little girl’s third time at the event.

“It gets her excited about what’s going on,” Jones said. “It lets her know where she comes from and where she is going, so she’ll be a more well-rounded person.

Oten Wyatt, 53, of Southfield, who works in the downtown Detroit office of the U.A.W. International, educating and mobilizing members, attends every year. He came this year with his son, Julian Wyatt, 23, of Detroit.

“We’ve got to continue to rebuild the city of Detroit and put the rebirth and life back in Detroit, and pull together as a whole,” Oten Wyatt said when asked his thoughts on the meaning of the gathering.

Cobo Center caterers served chicken stuffed with Swiss chard and turkey bacon, a squash medley, sweet potato mash and apple flan swirled with chocolate.

Chairing the event were Leon Richardson, president of ChemicoMays, and Gregory Jackson, president and CEO of Prestige Automotive Group/Jackson Automotive Management.

During the night, the Detroit branch honored:

  • Detroit NAACP Matriarch Emma Didlake with the James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Author and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, with the 2013 Ida B. Wells Freedom and Justice Award.
  • Detroit Councilwoman JoAnn Watson with the 2013 Mary Church Terrell Freedom and Justice Award.)
  • Michigan Chronicle Senior Editor Bankole Thompson and Wayne State University Law School Dean Jocelyn Benson with the 2013 Great Expectations Award.
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