ST. PETERSBURG — A tribute to three police officers who lost their lives on duty this year will cap the St. Petersburg NAACP branch's 78th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet Saturday.
The program also will include presentations to community leaders for achievements in areas such as education, religion, politics and social service.
The theme of the gathering at the St. Petersburg Coliseum, "Affirming America's Promise," will echo that of the national organization.
"It's a very relevant time for a theme like that,'' said the Rev. Manuel Sykes, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP branch.
"It talks about constitutional amendments and other changes that occurred to the civil rights movement and other laws that were passed that guarantee equality and justice and fairness for all people, African-Americans in particular. What this is, is taking a look back at how those things have or have not been applied and a renewed emphasis on making sure those things continue. … We don't want rhetoric to replace these rights based upon fear or any other kind of tactic.''
The evening's keynote speaker will be U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims Judge Robert N. Davis. St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster and Deputy Police Chief Luke Williams are expected to be among the officials who will attend. R&B legend Jeffrey Osborne will perform.
Honorary chairman of the banquet will be Bill Edwards, chairman and chief executive officer of Big 3 Entertainment, which recently was awarded the contract for managing the city-owned Mahaffey Theater.
Edwards was asked to be the event's honorary chairman because of his company's record of "reaching out and giving resources to the African-American community and because they have supported us in a very strong way,'' Sykes said.
"It's really a refreshing experience when companies that are that large are willing to support and promote agencies that work with minority youth and youth in general, as well as organizations like the NAACP, whose goal it is to advocate for equal rights and equal treatment under the law."
Big 3 Entertainment produced the song and video that will be performed by the Boys & Girls Club of St. Petersburg to honor canine Officer Jeffrey A. Yaslowitz, Sgt. Thomas J. Baitinger and Officer David S. Crawford, who were killed this year.
"I think it's a good thing coming from minority kids,'' Sykes said of the song, Let's Get Together, that was written by members of the club.
"It's a special thing showing that we are cognizant of, and compassionate toward, the suffering of the officers' families and that we support the police officers and what they do. In fact, their role in affirming America's promise is vital.''
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283.