NAACP branch focuses on aid

Freedom Fund dinner is expected to raise thousands to fight bias

Lieutenant governor is to speak

Profits from the event to help with scholarships

Carroll County

October 17, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

The annual Freedom Fund dinner, a major fund-raiser for the Carroll County's NAACP branch, is expected to raise thousands of dollars tonight for the organization's behind-the-scenes efforts to fight discrimination in areas such as housing and employment.

The guest speaker, Michael S. Steele, was chosen because he is the first African-American to be elected lieutenant governor in Maryland, said John Lewis, president of the Carroll branch.

"His election sets the tone for a bit of history, and we are making a point of it," Lewis said.

Steele has attended several Freedom Fund dinners in recent weeks, including those in Cecil, Baltimore and Howard counties.

"In this solid Republican county, having the lieutenant governor appear is certainly appealing," said Phyllis Hammond, past president of the Carroll branch. "The tickets should sell themselves."

The visits to Freedom Fund dinners are Steele's way "of thanking the NAACP leadership for their tireless efforts in watching over civil rights," said Regan Hopper, spokeswoman for Steele.

"The lieutenant governor recognizes the NAACP's commitment to strengthening public education in Maryland, promoting African-American entrepreneurship and encouraging employment opportunities in the private sector," Hopper said.

Sales of about 400 tickets, at $35 each, should yield more than $3,000 for the local branch. The dinner will be held at Martin's Westminster.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was fairly active in the county throughout the 1980s, but waning membership ended the branch about 10 years ago.

A small group, which spoke of a climate of racism in the county, helped revive the branch in 1998. Membership has grown to about 100, said Lewis.

"We have asked the lieutenant governor to speak about the history of the NAACP and what it takes to sustain a branch," said Lewis.

The 2001 Freedom Fund dinner, the first for the branch, drew more than 500 guests, including speakers Kweisi Mfume, NAACP president, and Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a 7th District Democrat.

Proceeds from the dinner helped fund outreach programs, multicultural events in Carroll's school system and projects sponsored by the McDaniel College Black Student Union, said Hammond.

"I am attending the dinner to show my commitment to the organization and its cause," said Hammond. "We have to make sure our voices are heard out there."

After a lapse last year, Lewis said that he intends to make the dinner an annual event. Profits this year will enhance the scholarship fund and might help start a youth chapter.

"Our biggest expenses are for legal redress to complaints," Lewis said. "We can't get comfortable. Segregation does exist."

In Carroll, where the most recent census figures show the minority population is about 4 percent, Lewis hopes to continue building membership.

"We have the same problems as many other organizations," he said. "We need active members so that not just a few people are carrying the ball."

The organization has made strides in equal employment and housing, he said. Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff appointed Lewis to a community group helping in the search for the city police chief.

Soon after the Freedom Fund dinner, the branch will begin organizing the annual Former Students and Friends of Robert Moton School Inc. breakfast in honor of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Alumni of the school that, until 1964, was Carroll County's only high school for African-Americans, held the event for 15 years. Aging alumni were not up to the task this year of organizing a breakfast, which often drew more than 500 people.

NAACP members will take over the event that coincides with the King birthday celebration in January, Lewis said.

"This is a great tradition that we cannot let die," he said.

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