Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series.
The words thriving and together are more than words for the Battle Creek Branch of the NAACP which is building their annual Freedom Fund Dinner on a foundation of Thriving Together.
The local branch’s theme aligns with that of the organization’s national theme, says Lynn Ward Gray, 1st Vice President of the local NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) Branch and Co-chairperson of the event along with her husband, Sam Gray.
Now in its 88th year, the Freedom Fund Dinner takes place on October 27 at the Kool Family Community Center beginning with a reception at 5:30 p.m. followed by dinner and a program at 6 p.m.
“This is our annual fundraiser and what we raise in this one huge event sustains us through the year to do our programming which takes on a variety of shapes,” Gray says.
That programming includes the upcoming Heritage Quiz Bowl; the citywide Juneteenth celebration; legal redress services for individuals who feel like they’ve been discriminated against in employment or other areas; and voter protection and Get Out the Vote efforts.
“All of this only takes place with people power,” Gray says. “We’re able to show up in more spaces with more hands to plow when it comes to social justice and this annual event allows us to do that.”
Rev. Dr. Steve Bland, Jr., Senior Pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church in Detroit is the keynote speaker at this year's NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner.
The program will feature remarks from keynote speaker the Rev. Dr. Steve Bland, Jr., Senior Pastor of Liberty Temple Baptist Church in Detroit. He also serves as Chairman of the Board of the Liberty Temple Community Development Corporation and the Liberty Transformation Resource Center (LTRC), a community-based technology center that has specialized programs and services for the Northwest Detroit area.
In addition to Bland’s speech, community members will be recognized with the Battle Creek NAACP Image Awards, says Carey Whitfield, President of the Battle Creek NAACP, in a letter to friends and supporters of the NAACP.
This year’s Image Award awardees are:
DaMarcus and Angela Jones, owners of South Side Grubz
Businessperson of the Year Award:
Christrina Edwards, owner of Chris Edwards Salon
Rosa Parks Award:
President's Award: Kimberly Carter, Superintendent of Battle Creek Public Schools
Freedom Fighter Award:
Kimberly Holley, Battle Creek's DEI Officer
“Since 1909, the NAACP has helped guide America’s moral compass to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination,” Whitfield says. “The Battle Creek Branch, founded in 1924, and friends like you, aid in this monumental task every day.”
The local NAACP branch has well over 125 members, that include Lifetime members like the Gray’s and corporate members such as the City of Battle Creek. Gray says the dinner is an opportunity to add new members and voices.
“When we have more members bringing more gifts to the table it allows us to expand as a branch with what we give to the community,” she says.
Carey Whitfield, President of the Battle Creek NAACP, says they will continue to work together with Battle Creek residents to promote solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing Black communities across the country today.
Among the issues that will be a major focus for the local NAACP branch are health disparities and health outcomes impacting African Americans. This includes “listening to and believing Black individuals when they say they’re in pain. We work closely with Bronson Healthcare Group, Bronson Battle Creek, and the Battle Creek Community Foundation to promote COVID vaccinations and address customer service challenges that African Americans have experienced with local health systems,” Gray says.
There also is an emphasis on creating positive outlets for the community’s African American youth.
“We’re trying to get our Youth Council up and running and getting additional youth councils established in local high schools,” Gray says. “We want to provide positive outlets for our young people and engage them in social justice work at an early age. The NAACP is able to show, guide lead, and create leaders within our own community.”
Whitfield says the Battle Creek NAACP Branch will continue under the national NAACP theme to work together with members and residents “to tackle the local and national issues of our time: Race & Justice, Education Innovation, Inclusive Economy, Health & Well-Being, and Environmental Climate justice.”
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