NAACP MLK banquet takes aim at Trump, education
The Mecklenburg County NAACP Chapter held its 32nd annual Freedom Fund Banquet and celebration of the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday.
The event took place in a new location, VFW Post 8163 in Clarksville, and at a new time, beginning at 4 p.m.
“It’s good to be willing to change, because change is a good thing, and we need more of it,” Mistress of Ceremony Doris Hester said, noting the event is held annually to honor and remember the legacy of a “great human being who we should always remember.”
During the program, guest speaker Dr. Avis Jones-DeWeever laid out a plan of “massive resistance” toward the incoming presidential administration, and the discussion led into remarks on the current state of public school education in Mecklenburg County.
Chapter President Troy Bowers recognized distinguished guests in attendance, which included elected county leaders and youths from the Southside Youth Development Corporation and Bethlehem Baptist Church of Chase City, and the chapter’s immediate past president, B. Lacy Marks, was recognized for leading the organization for 24 years.
Attendees were inspired by Jones-DeWeever’s remarks as well as a rendition of King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech delivered by the chapter’s chaplain, the Rev. Willie Tisdale. All joined hands as they closed the evening singing “We Shall Overcome.”
Marks introduced Jones-DeWeever, an accomplished author and civil rights advocate who is a Bluestone High School graduate and daughter of a longtime Mecklenburg County educator.
Jones-DeWeever opened her remarks by indicating she was about to tell some hard truths.
“I came here to say what needed to be said so we can do what needs to be done at the time that we face right now,” she said, noting that within a matter of days, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America.
“This time what we will experience is something that will be quite different than what we’ve experienced before, especially for us,” she said of the transition of power. “We’ve gone from the height of exultation, having witnessed the installation and reelection of the first black President, Barack Obama, and we’ve watched as this man has shepherded this nation, and he has led us effectively over the past eight years. He’s done so virtually single-handedly after experiencing I would argue unprecedented levels of obstruction, of hatefulness, of vitriol and of disrespect.
“To go from that to now, a moment in history in which we are about to witness all the progress that we’ve made over the past eight years, progress that has taken us quite frankly from an economic abyss that we were facing to now a nation that is much better positioned for success, we are about to watch that all threatened as this nation is put into the hands of someone who could easily be described as racist, as sexist, as someone who is clearly narcissistic and as someone who is xenophobic.”
Jones-DeWeever said there are two choices, acceptance or resistance.
“I don’t know about any of you, but for me and my house, I choose resistance,” she said before laying out a three-part strategy for “massive resistance” — Know your enemy, mount a counterattack and reclaim your house.
She said the attacks against African-Americans have already begun.
“As I stand before you today, the same people who spent eight long years doing as close to nothing as humanly possible are now engaged in a flurry of activity,” she said, noting the new administration and Republican majorities in Congress are moving to eradicate the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, hold hearings on cabinet members without typical vetting processes, institute new tax rules to penalize imports and provide large tax breaks for corporations, etc.
“And worst of all, we know that all this is just the beginning,” Jones-DeWeever said, adding, “We all know that when the American people are under assault, black America is at war.”
She encouraged a counterattack that involves a “divestment and investment strategy” while grooming and running African-American candidates at every level of government.
She said it’s estimated the black community’s collective buying power in America is $1.3 trillion per year.
“Imagine if we went out of our way on a regular basis to support black businesses rather than just make the easy, quick, convenient trip to those major megastores that so far underpay their workers that many of them still need to rely on food stamps just to survive,” Jones-DeWeever said. “Imagine what could and would happen if we were strategic and focused as a collective around how we spent $1.3 trillion this year alone. In and of itself, that change would be revolutionary.”
She also encouraged a shift in political strategy.
“While voting is critically important, it’s not enough,” she said, encouraging attendees to run for public office and recruit others to do the same.
“The power is truly in our hands to take our country back,” she said. “We can reclaim this house.”
She said while it will be necessary to mitigate potential damage to come, African-Americans should remember that “the best defense is a strong offense.”
“We need to focus on how we can position ourselves for true political power, true economic power and true black power,” Jones-DeWeever said. “We need not be distracted by the unhinged musings of a deeply flawed political novice whose days as commander and chief are numbered from the moment he takes that oath.”
Hester took back the floor and added, “Whoever thought that such a character could get elected President of the United States of America with all those things that came out of his mouth.”
Marks shifted the focus to Mecklenburg County Public Schools, saying the number of black educators in the county is minimal.
“In Mecklenburg County, the black school teachers are in a short supply,” he said. “You can literally go to a school and count on one hand the black instructors, school teachers and administrators, and we need to do something about that.”
He encouraged the county to recruit teachers from historically black institutions of higher learning.
Mecklenburg County Democratic Committee Chair Gloria Smith said she is appalled by the current state of the school construction issue in the county, with the school board and board of supervisors at odds over where and how many new middle and high school campuses should be built.
“We need a new school badly, and in my opinion a centralized school so that we can offer more to our students,” Smith said. “And we have this selfish thing about pulling from one side of the county to the other side, the east against the west. That ends up with zero. We are limiting our students in this county terribly.”
Chapter 1st Vice President Everette Burwell Sr. presented Marks with a plaque to recognize the 24 years he spent as chapter president.
“For 24 years you have persevered,” Burwell said. “When the Mecklenburg chapter seemed to want to fold up, you held up the banner and you pushed forward and you kept this great chapter going.”