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NAACP honors leaders, 100 years of history

BRADENTON — Reflecting on events ranging from the lynching of Emmett Till to the election of Barack Obama, local leaders gathered to remember the struggles and successes as the NAACP celebrated its 100th anniversary Tuesday night.

The centennial celebration was marked with the annual freedom fund and awards banquet recognizing local leaders’ efforts for equity among people and to eradicate racism and discrimination for the oldest civil rights organizations in the country.

A panel of speakers ranging from educators to politicians spoke about the impact the organization has had in Manatee County.

Joyce Kerse, whose father was the first NAACP president in Manatee County, was awarded the lifetime membership award.

Kerse spoke about the civil rights experience and what she learned from her father.

She said after watching her father fight for civil rights, she learned from him to respect people even if you don’t agree with them and to help others.

She remembered her father speaking to Mr. Beall about allowing African-Americans to try on hats before purchasing them at Beall’s Department stores.

“They might seem like a very small thing, but it was big if you think about people working on change and getting things done,” she said.

Barbara Harvey, who began her teaching career when she was 19-years-old at an all black school, Memorial Elementary, shared memories of integrating the schools.

She spoke of how there was little supplies and compassion shown to African-American students.

“We had children who loved us and we loved those children. We taught them and they respected us,” she said.

She said issues remain with educating youth, having self respect and respect for others.

“Are we better off as a people now? The NAACP has made a great difference in our community. Have we stepped up to the plate? ... Have we taken advantage of what is there?” she said. “What happened two weeks ago shouldn’t have happened.”

Harvey referenced the recent violence in which 18-year-old DeJuan Williams, a recent Bayshore High graduate, was gunned down in his backyard. Charged in the shooting is 16-year-old Byron Galloway, a Southeast High School student.

“We need to step up to the plate together,” she said.

NAACP awards were given to the following recipients:

Shirley Pearson received the Presidential Award, recognizing an individual’s community work. Pearson has served as program director for Mt. Carmel Community Resource Center, and partnered with Manatee Technical Institute, Meals On Wheels, Strength in Action and more. Evangeline Hall received the Lifetime Achievement Award, which recognizes demonstrated leadership skills that go beyond the call of duty and responsibility.

Cheri Coryea received the Community Service Award, which honors someone who has served without compensation in community service projects beyond that of an organization’s board member. Coryea, appointed the first director of the Neighborhood Services Department with Manatee County, serves as project facilitator for the Norma Lloyd Park Project in Bradenton.

“This is a team award. Thank you very much,” said Coryea as she accepted the award on stage. Carl Weeks received the Unsung Hero’s Award, recognizing a person who has enriched the community by serving as a catalyst for a cause, issue or organization without past recognition or compensation. Weeks was nominated in his role as executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manatee County.

“Thank you very much. It’s a great honor. I started thinking about unsung heroes. I don’t know if that’s me. I think I’m a person who partners,” said Weeks noting staff, family members and community members.

Despite the hard work, he said more has to be done.

“We’ve got to do a better job. When you start thinking about the future, we’ve got to give these kids the hope and opportunity .... to become leaders,” he said. Champs, the sporting goods company based in Bradenton, received the Business Industrial Award. This honor goes to a Manatee-based business that conducts exemplary community service, particularly in the African American communities of Manatee County.

Ed Bailey, president of the local NAACP chapter, also recognized Lockheed Martin as a sponsor for the banquet.