Local NAACP program reflects community’s efforts in action

Banquet speaker decries Congressman Bob Goodlatte

Keynote Banquet speaker Sharon Lettman-Hicks delivers a rousing address at the 17th Annual NAACP Citizen of the Year Awards Banquet Friday, May 22. – photos by S. Rotan Hale
Keynote Banquet speaker Sharon Lettman-Hicks delivers a rousing address at the 17th Annual NAACP Citizen of the Year Awards Banquet Friday, May 22. – photos by S. Rotan Hale

by S. Rotan Hale

The Roanoke Branch NAACP held its 17th Annual Citizen of the Year Awards banquet Friday, May 22 at Tanglewood Holiday Inn. Journalist Brie Jackson, of WSLS 10 served as emcee for the well-attended affair that recognizes a host of area individuals and organizations for their achievements and contributions on various levels.

In a somber tone, Mayor David Bowers, focused his opening remarks on the current, racially charged, civil unrest resulting from incidents involving excessive force by police nationwide.

Roanoke City Mayor David Bowers address banquet crowd.
Roanoke City Mayor David Bowers address banquet crowd.

“It’s been an interesting time regarding certain cities in our country. Make no mistake, the tragic death of a young Black man can happen in any city, town or county in America. We hope and pray that as city officials we have done the things in our Six-time All-America City to ensure that fairness and justice will prevail in Roanoke,” the mayor said. “Black lives matter in Roanoke, blue lives in uniform matter in Roanoke, all lives matter in Roanoke he added as the audience applauded.

The mayor quickly lightened the mood with a David Letterman approach–which went over quite well as he gave the top 10 reasons to attend the annual awards banquet.

Among those recognized were several local high school students who voiced impressive and lofty after-graduation aspirations upon receiving their awards.

Honorees (from left): Aaliyah Gray, past president, Youth Council; Blake Barnes, president; Jamyra Ball, honor student; Jamel Hale, honor athlete.
Honorees (from left): Aaliyah Gray, past president, Youth Council; Blake Barnes, president; Jamyra Ball, honor student; Jamel Hale, honor athlete.

Local seniors honored as “Outstanding NAACP Youth Leaders” for academic accomplishments were: Blake Barnes, Jamel Hale and Jamyra Ball of William Fleming High School and Aaliyah Gray from Northside High School. Additionally 13 members of the NAACP Youth Council were also among the graduating seniors recognized.

This year’s Citizen of the Year Award recipients were: Arts: Yolanda Franklin, founder, Agape Performing Arts Center; Business: Sherman Lea, Jr., executive director, New Hope Services; Education: Dr. Nathaniel Bishop, president, Jefferson College of Health Sciences and Jerel Rhodes, founder and president of Renaissance Academy; Media: Leonard Wheeler, president and CEO of The Vibe (WVBE-FM, 100.1/97.7, 610 AM) along with Kianna Price Wade, program director and on-air personality for The Vibe; Medicine: Dr. Cynda Ann Johnson, president and founding dean of Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and Religion: Rev. Sylvia Ball, pastor, Sweet Union Baptist Church.

Women United for Community Action president Carolyn Patterson, receives The President’s Award for the organization as local NAACP president Brenda Hale looks on.
Women United for Community Action president Carolyn Patterson, receives The President’s Award for the organization as local NAACP president Brenda Hale looks on.

Others awarded were: Ted Edlich III, retired president Total Action for Progress who received the Lifetime Achievement Award. Tom Cain and Antwyne Callaway received the Rev. R.R. Wilkinson Memorial Award for Social Justice. The President’s Award went to Women United for Community Action president Carolyn Patterson.

Keynote speaker was Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director and chief executive officer, National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC) which is the nation’s leading lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization who delivered a 15-minute speech based on the banquet theme “Seeking Justice and Equality For All.”

She spoke of the current “level of oppression” in the US and said, “Our country has a lot of turmoil right now, we’re at a crossroads where people don’t feel seen…don’t feel understood… and this is not the first time.”

Much of her discourse that followed involved various heinous accounts that outlined a legacy of blatant “societal oppression” that is a significant element in the fabric of America’s foundation and development as a nation.

Lettman-Hicks referred to the recent events in Baltimore and around the country as being “emotional, hurtful and even traumatic for so many in the Black community.” Broadening the focus, she asserted, “It’s not just about us (Blacks)…the reality is, everybody’s frustrated and recognizes that more needs to be done.”

Continuing through her prepared remarks she outlined several remedial precepts intended to neutralize the unrelenting problems resulting from the scourge of racial oppression–and drew special attention to the double-edged blow imposed on Black LGBT people.

“Respecting and understanding each other’s communities; taking time to talk about differences and speaking truth to those in power about our pain,” topped her list of essential fundamentals required to achieve greater racial harmony.

Closing strong Lettman-Hicks zeroed in on “the power of the vote” and launched an unmitigated attack on Sixth District Republican Congressman Bob Goodlatte who serves as Chairman of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

Lettman-Hicks pointed out that Con. Goodlatte didn’t see the necessity in restoring that portion of the voting rights act (aka Section 5) that was struck down by the Supreme Court.

The court ruled almost 2 years ago (June 25, 2013) that Section 5 of the landmark 1965 law, which required certain parts of the country with a history of minority voting suppression to approve any voting changes to their voting laws, with the federal government, was invalid.

Therefore in a 5/4 decision, the court ruled that those regions, of which the majority were in the south, were outdated and that congress needed to re-designate which regions required special authority.

Additionally Representative Goodlatte and other Republicans reviewed the effects of the court ruling and concluded that the voting rights act is “strong enough in its current form.” He further noted that other portions of the law still allow people in states to go to court and seek pre-clearance requirement if they can demonstrate that voter suppression is taking place.

After her thorough and extremely informative review of Goodlatte’s position regarding the voting rights law, Lettman-Hicks vehemently identified the congressman as “the one person stopping the voting rights legislation from moving forward in congress!”

“As we continue to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, we must keep pressing Congress to restore the VRA,” she said and called special attention to a rally to be held in Roanoke, organized by the National NAACP legal Defense Fund (LDF) in conjunction with the Roanoke Branch NAACP. The event is scheduled for June 25th 2015 in accordance with the 2-year anniversary of the landmark case of Shelby County, AL v. Holder.

The case involves a lawsuit filed by Shelby County that sought to invalidate Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which is widely regarded as the heart of the legislation. The LDF intervened in the case on behalf of African-American residents of Shelby County whose voting rights were directly impacted by the county’s challenge. Subsequently the Supreme Court’s ruling struck down Section 5 of the VRA and consequently shifted the matter to the hands of congress.

“It’s really up to this community, you hold the keys to the entire country because your man is in the way… so Roanoke own your power and send a message to Congressman Bob Goodlatte,” said Lettman-Hicks with a final battle cry that perfectly signaled a standing ovation.

Local branch president Brenda Hale closed the power-packed program with a call to action regarding the planned rally. Charged over the prospects of the event, Hale said, “…everyone must understand that there is a time and a place for things to happen and this is an opportunity. Roanoke is the place and June 25th is the time for you to be in Elmwood Park for this historic gathering.” She said busses will be coming from all over the country and urged everyone in the audience to spread the news of the historic gathering that by all accounts will send the powerful message from those who demand total transparency and will no longer stand for anything less than “justice and equality for all.”