Youngstown leaders and community members celebrated more than 100 years of the NAACP standing up for civil liberties at the Freedom Fund Banquet Friday night at Choffin Career and Technical Center.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, established in 1909 by W.E.B. Du Bois, Mary White Ovington and Moorfield Storey, has long focused on ending racial discrimination in all aspects of American life.
“The NAACP is still a very viable and relevant organization fighting for our children’s futures, bringing people protection under the law,” said Christina Napier, banquet chairwoman.
The local NAACP chapter was founded in 1919. Its president since 2014 is George Freeman Jr., a graduate of Howland High School and Youngstown State University.
Friday’s keynote speaker, Atty. Cheryl Mabry, who is director of Cleveland’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said the NAACP has put the fight for civil rights on its back for a long, long time.
“Regardless of obstacles, the NAACP has played an extremely pivotal and critical role for the fight for equality,” Mabry said. “From grass-roots, foot-stomping legal battles and beyond, this organization has been right there on the front line every day. … It was behind the actual law that created my employer.”
The EEOC, she said, deals with job discrimination.
Napier said job discrimination is among the many facets the NAACP fights against.
“A call from our ancestors beckons us to band together to make a difference for future generations,” she added.
Napier said fighting for civil rights has been in her lifeblood for generations and she has no intention of stopping that trend.
Mabry said the continued efforts help her in her career and her life.
“Thanks to the NAACP … the EEOC gets to do what we do,” she said.
She acknowledged the “many soldiers in the Valley” who helped and continue to help the fight for civil rights.
“Here we have many local visionaries and activists,” Mabry said. “I know there’s many, many others.”
Youngstown City Schools visual and performing arts students enhanced the evening’s motivational spirit with a stunning interpretive dance and vocal performance of “Wade in the Water.”
The performance and a moment of silence were both dedicated to former state Sen. Harry Meshel, who was a strong voice for civil rights in the Valley and around the world for decades.
Meshel died Sept. 4 at age 93.