A special guest and annual event this past weekend went largely unnoticed in our community, and that is unfortunate. The 69th NAACP Freedom Fund luncheon was held in Roanoke this past Saturday and the featured speaker was Leon Russell, Chairman of the National Board of Directors for the NAACP.
Mr. Russell, who hails from Florida (though he is a Pulaski native) and serves as the Chair of the 110-year-old NAACP, came to address the lunch attendees. According to Brenda Hale, President of the Roanoke Branch of the NAACP, this was the Chair’s first visit to any branch in Virginia. Mr. Russell has served on the NAACP Board of Directors for more than 27 years, serving as its Chair since 2017. He has been a member of the organization since he was a teenager. Prior to his selection as Chair, Mr. Russell had a long career in public service in Pinellas County, Fla., where he served as the Director of the Office of Human Rights.
Organizing for Change
The NAACP has, for 110 years, sought to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights to eliminate race-based discrimination and, in turn, ensure the health and well-being of all persons. Mr. Russell provided a heart-felt defense of that mission, advocating for attendees to get out and vote, help educate and inform folks about the issues that matter, attend and participate, and hold those elected to public office accountable. The Roanoke Branch NAACP, chartered in 1933, stands ready under the leadership of Brenda Hale, a longtime advocate for civil rights and a military veteran, to take up Mr. Russell on his charge. Among its many accomplishments, perhaps the most impressive the local branch has accomplished is its engagement and involvement of area youth. Members of the Youth Council served as emcee, introduced Mr. Russell, and led the room in the pledge of allegiance—the future of the organization is clearly in good hands! Most noticeable was the announcement that the evening’s emcee, Chance Staples, would be following his brother next year to Stanford where he will begin his studies to become a physician, and the announcement that another youth member was awaiting a response on his application to Princeton. Each of these are proud students/graduates of William Fleming High School.
The Roanoke Branch benefits from the strong support of the local community, most notably Carilion Clinic, Kroger, TAP, Food Lion, and Local 400. You too can support the efforts of this important organization. Upcoming events include a Jubilee Day program in January, Citizen of the Year celebration, and the 85th Annual Convention of the Virginia State Conference NAACP, which will be hosted in the City in fall 2020. All of these are great opportunities to join in the effort, sponsor activities, and learn of the NAACP and its vital mission.
It is essential that the NAACP succeed in its mission—its success is our success. The City has and will continue to be a strong supporter of its efforts and we are all better for it!
-- Bob Cowell