Local NAACP hosts banquet

By Larry Sutton - Guest columnist

With the convening of the Sampson County Branch of the NAACP Freedom Fund banquet recently, organizers of the event rolled out the red carpet for more than 300 people, bringing together a cross section of individuals representing many different ideas, viewpoints, and economic status. These supporters came from the many sectors of our community life, including governmental, religious, educational, civic and business groups.

Calling the banquet to order was Clinton native and former Clinton City Schools’ teacher, Mr. Marcus Bass, acting as Master of Ceremonies, who currently resides in Charlotte. Following the call to order, the banquet attendees settled into an evening of inspiring words, uplifting music and a sumptuous meal.

Among the many highlights of the evening were a special greeting by Clinton Mayor Lew Starling and a welcome address by the local NAACP branch President Lee Byam. In her remarks to the assembly, Mrs. Byam briefly summarized some of the branch’s past and ongoing activities, including the groups participation in marches, workshops and training sessions with an emphasis on building a stronger branch. While alluding to the branch’s new office in downtown Clinton, she stated, “The opening of our office on Wall Street has been a big step of progress for us.” Before concluding her remarks, the local branch president reiterated, “We are energized to keep the branch working to accomplish our mission and goals to focus on the issues that are important.”

Mrs. Byam further expounded on the issues saying, “We want a safer community, better health care, and environment that is safe for future generations and a fair living wage for all citizens in Sampson County.”

Following much anticipation, the banquet attendees had the opportunity to hear some inspiring words from the history making guest speaker, The Honorable Paul A. Hardison, the first African-American Chief District Court Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, presiding in Onslow, Jones, Duplin and Sampson counties.

Another special highlight of the Freedom Fund Banquet included the recognition of the Sampson County Branch of the NAACP Scholarship recipient, Mikeala Roberson, who has enrolled at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she plans to major in biology.

As usual, the awarding of the Community Service Award engenders much excitement at the banquet, and this year was no exception. Prior to the banquet, the Branch Executive Board had met and agreed on the 2015 Community Service Award recipient. It was agreed upon that this year’s Freedom Fund guest speaker was the ideal choice for the award, being that he was in his 25th year tenure as a District Court Judge and had just had his historic swearing in ceremony in January 2015 as the first African-American Chief District Court Judge of the Fourth Judicial District.

To be sure, it seemed as if those in attendance at the banquet were in agreement as they gave The Honorable Paul A. Hardison a thunderous standing ovation after his being recognized as the Community Service Award recipient for 2015.

So, by all accounts, the local NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet for 2015 was a tremendous success. And the for the third consecutive year banquet chair JoAnn Howard led the group in organizing the event and in making the community more aware of the local NAACP branch’s major annual event.

In expressing her appreciation for the generous support from the many facets of our community life, Mrs. Howard stated, “ Your support directly aids this organization in its continued fight for social equality and justice for all.” She further asserted, “Our supporters have done so much and really responded to our call for assistance. You have provided outstanding advertisements, donations, and purchased tickets. I thank God for allowing me the opportunity to do such positive work with such good people.”

For more information about the mission and vision of the NAACP, the local branch invites you to attend the general membership meetings on the fourth Monday of each month at First Baptist Church, 900 College St., Clinton, at 6:30 p.m.

By Larry Sutton

Guest columnist