NAACP honors Citizens of the Year

Pareena Lawrence, president of Hollins College delivers her speech at the 20th Annual Citizen of the Year Awards program. – Photos by S. Hale

by D. Van Burch

May is here! And with it comes recognition of the Annual Roanoke Branch NAACP Citizen of the Year awards recipients.

Held on May 4, this year marks the 20th anniversary of the local event, charismatically hosted by Kianna Price with a list of recipients that included a who’s who of local noteworthy personalities.

To kick the night off, Peggy Fleming was presented the Citizen of the Year Business award for her outstanding achievement in the success of her full-service catering and event planning company, SHOWTIME. In response she quoted,“My bank account may not overflow but my heart does.”

Dwight Steele, Jr. and Connie Steele.

Another business award was presented to the dynamic duo, Rev. Dwight and Ms. Connie Steele, received by Mrs. Steele accompanied by her son Dwight, Jr., in Rev. Steele’s absence.

“None of this would exist without the 26 years of continued support.” said Steele’s son referring to the success of the family operated Serenity Funeral Home.

Sheila Herron

In the category of Education, William Fleming High School principal, Archie Freeman took home the first place award through thunderous applause. Freeman began his speech by profusely expressing how much his students and the youth are his priority. Leila Bryant, one of Freeman’s students, was also among the recipients regarding Educated Youth. Bryant had been seen earlier in the program showcasing her musical talents during the opening moments. Speaking with confidence, the 17-year-old accepted her award in very humble fashion.

“I’m honored that this program would think of me when it comes to education because to me education is everything especially being a young Black girl in this day and age in America,” she said.

Joan Wages

Among the honorees recognized for Humanitarian awards were Sheila Umberger, director, Roanoke Public Libraries, who credited a large part of her success to her father who emphasized Community! “It is most important to be there for the children, to teach them and learn from them,” said Umberger.

NAACP local president Brenda Hale presents Mavis Claytor Ford with Humanitarian award.

Honored as a health care provider was Mavis Ford the 1st African American to earn a nursing degree from the University of Virginia. From seeing her grandfather in slavery to caring for a ailing grandmother as a child, Ford knew being a nurse was the right choice for her.

“From the wisdom of my grandparents, I always focused on the value of education and the rewards of helping people,” Ford said.

Anita Price

Anita James Price rounded out the Humanitarian section–honored as the first African American woman to be vice mayor of Roanoke. She received the lifetime achievement award for her success and excellence in the community and for her work with youth. Price began her speech by acknowledging and praising all the honorees from the evening and said she was surrounded by a bunch of “rising and shooting stars.” She concluded with a quote from the late Martin Luther King Jr. ‘“Every one can be great because every one can serve another.”’

Pareena Lawrence, president of nearby Hollins College, was the dynamic speaker of the evening. In addition to being a profound teacher, leader and author, she is also a wife and mother. During her 20 min. address, Lawrence, an extremely down-to-earth individual, expressed that she believes everybody is where they are because of choices. She made the choice to want to learn more and gain more knowledge even though she was coming from a pretty closed-in area of India–although she would not let that define her. College was her dream and not even her father, who was hesitant to let her go, would stop her from achieving her dream and bringing her goals into fruition. Her speech opened with lessons she learned from her parents. “Grit, tenacity and the ability to compartmentalize.” She had never been in a foreign college setting, never really traveled but knew with the tools she had and the determination she possessed she could do anything. Her speech centered around not letting the idea of failure deter you, (especially our youth) from achieving your goals. Free speech, diversity, and inclusion are the 3 things which must remain important for the world to progress. Hate speech, racism, poor vs rich, and other issues that cause division will not persevere. Her speech was one of motivation and resilience and registered well with the audience.

Ian Fortier

The event culminated with the parade of graduating students who, after individually announcing their future plans, were presented with honors.