The St. Petersburg chapter of the NAACP combined its annual Freedom Fund fundraiser with Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the announcement of the abolition of slavery.
An estimated 500 people gathered under an air-conditioned tent in Vinoy Park on June 17 to support the organization, share fellowship, eat dinner and dance. Almost everyone was dressed in white to show solidarity.
"I am excited about the good things the NAACP has been doing all year," said Cheryl Parker Smith as she sat down at her table. The organizations’s work to register new voters and fight to restore voting rights for people who have served time in prison for felons who have completed their sentences.
Arthurene Williams said she appreciates "the work they do to make sure our kids are treated equally when it comes to education." As the owner of Kidz World preschool, Williams said there is much more to achieving a good and equal education than what happens in elementary, middle and high schools.
"You have to look at parental involvement and early education," she said. "You have to start way before they get into kindergarten … The NAACP is trying to educate the community that we can do a lot to help our children. Reading to children, having them have their own books. Literacy is a really big issue."
Kent Channer the local NAACP’s treasurer, told the crowd that despite financial issues in the past, the chapter is on solid footing with audited statements. "We’ve got a clean bill of health," he said. "For the third year running, we are financially complaint with the national standards."
Local president Maria Scruggs praised and thanked everyone who serves on the board and gives their time and talent to the organization. She recognized the younger Millennials, and said they are very important because they will take the lead when the generations before them "sit down."
The cover of this year’s program featured a photo of Bryan Stevenson, executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative. The lawyer and activist founded the The Legacy Museum: From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration, which opened on April 26, in Montgomery, Alabama.
"He looks angry. He has a right to look angry," Scruggs said referring to the photo on the program. "In the 21st century we are still shackled mentally." An important part of moving forward is acknowledging what has happened in the past because that’s part of healing, she explained.
"We are not physically lunched today. We are economically, socially, educationally and politically lynched," Scruggs said. The centerpieces on each table featuring a white lily in a glass jar with a rope tied around the top were symbolic of past and present lynching, she added.
"First and foremost is to continue to tell a story that we must own and acknowledge before we move forward," Scruggs added.
The Juneteenth Celebration is the beginning of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP’s push toward honoring and recognizing the contributions and struggles of African people in a much more pronounced manner.
Katherine Snow Smith can be contacted at [email protected] Follow @snowsmith.