NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet celebrates 100 years

NAACP President, Keith Caldwell (far right) stand with his son Elijah and daughter Zoey Caldwell.

The Nashville Branch NAACP celebrated 100 years August 24 at their Freedom Fund Banquet. Under the leadership of Keith Caldwell, president of the Nashville Branch, there were many people celebrated on this night. Guests arrived at the Hilton Nashville Downtown and gathered in the lobby for an exclusive reception, followed by a program and dinner.

Brenda Gilmore served as the chair of this year’s banquet. Honorary co-chairs included: Dr. James K. Hildreth, president/CEO, Meharry Medical College; Latrisha Jemison, vice president, Regions Bank; Tina Hodges, CEO, Advanced Financial; Butch Spyridon, CEO, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.; and Amy Adams Strunk, controlling owner, Tennessee Titans. The banquet consisted of recognitions and an inclusion of participation by city officials, candidates and community NAACP members.

The program opened with Harriett Wallace, reporter/commentator with Fox 17. Mistress and Master of Ceremonies included: 92Q radio personalities Yolonda ‘Yolo’ Beech and Ernie Allen. The program began with a special music video presentation of ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing.’

The keynote speaker of the hour was Rev. John Faison, senior pastor of Watson Grove Baptist Church. At the beginning of his speech he said: “When a preacher is asked to be a speaker, you’re likely to get a ‘preacher.’ We’re all connected. No matter who you are, where you came from and what you might think concerns you, we’re all connected.”

Pictured are three of the former NAACP Presidents who received recognition (l to r): Rev. Dr. Stephen Handy, Rev. Dr. Sheila Peters and Rev. Neal Darby.

His text was in reference to the book of Esther, regarding the story of Mordecai and Queen Esther. Faison reminded listeners it was many years ago: “We can’t just reduce things to ‘just’ sitting-in or ‘just’ protesting. We must all take risks and stand up for justice.”

In the book of Esther, no one was allowed to see the king unless they were summoned to his presence. If you did come to see him, you would be killed—that included the queen. However, in the time of need, and under the encouragement of her cousin, Mordecai, Queen Esther decided that on behalf of her people, she would go talk to the king: “For such a time as this. If I perish, let me perish.”

With that thought, the words of Faison shifted to the works of those who have come before us “fighting for what is right,” and what the work of the NAACP is all about. He noted that he saw, in a publication, that he was named as a “prominent civil rights activist.” He was disturbed to think that people might be confused into believing that prominent activists are all male preachers.

“I’m reminded of people like…” and he named several people in the community that have been activists in “such a time as this.” These individuals spoke out, saying “what’s fair to all people makes one fight for justice for everyone.” Those names he called were young; they were old; they were fighters for the cause of justice.

Faison named Chrystal Knight; D. J. Hudson; Phyllis Hildreth; Rasheedt Fatuga with Gideon’s Army; Charlene Oliver; and youth activist Justine Jones, who later in the night received the Charles E. Kimbrough Renaissance 100 Medal of Honor Award. Upon receiving his award, Jones took that opportunity to encourage others to stand up, wherever and whenever they can and fight for justice.

Others recognized were the recipients of the Centennial Legacy Award, including: Charles W. Bone, attorney; Judge Sheila D.J. Calloway; and Joy Kimbrough, attorney. Former presidents all received a framed award, presented by NAACP President Keith Caldwell and an Award of Recognition from the chair of the 2019 Freedom Fund Banquet, Tenn. state Rep. Brenda Gilmore.

The program also included Dr. Teresa Smallwood, Leon Russell, and Gloria Sweet-Love, Tenn. state Conference, NAACP; Amy Adams Strunk, Marvelyn Brown, Beverly Glaze Johnson, and Mayor David Briley; Council Members-at-Large Erica Gilmore and John Cooper; and Rev. James Turner. Music and a special presentation of ‘Her Story, Her Song’ was provided by Patrick Dailey.

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