The Detroit Branch of the NAACP managed to do what many thought couldn’t be done … elevate the organization’s national stature, while quelling doubts about it’s credibility and relevance in light of the Donald Sterling scandal and a slew of racial rants from other sectors. NAACP members and supporters filed into Cobo Center in downtown Detroit for the 59th Annual Fight For Freedom Fund dinner which honors local and national activists while spotlighting achievements and challenges in the African American community. Guests filed past a handful of detractors protesting the civil rights organization for its position on abortion.
The largest sit down dinner in the world felt more like a family reunion on Sunday night, as luminaries and dignitaries from around the country greeted each other in accord for the dinner’s theme, “Great Strides have been made, but there’s much more to do.” Special guests included Shaun Robinson of “Access Hollywood” and Bryan Smiley, a Hollywood television and film producer. Both are graduates of NAACP youth programs.
Harvard University law school professor Charles Ogletree Jr. addressed the crowd, following awards presentations to longtime freedom fighters and friends of the NAACP, U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and and U.S. Rep. John Dingell, who received lifetime achievement awards at the the event. Both Levin and Dingell commented that they began attending the Fight for Freedom Fund dinner for many years, with Dingell having attended the first organized dinner in 1955. Gary Peters, who will fill the senate seat vacated by Levin and Deborah Dingell, who will succeed John Dingell following his retirement after nearly 6o years. Levin who has served for 36 years is the longest serving senator in Michigan history, and Dingell who is the longest serving member of congress in history.
When asked about the Los Angeles NAACP branch scandal, with the resignation of it president Leon Jenkins, a former Detroiter and the organization’s involvement with defamed LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, Detroit NAACP president Rev. Wendell Anthony replied, “The comments were reprehensible and outrageous and reflective of an era that certainly we thought we had surpassed. But obviously from time to time we get remarks that remind us that we do not live in a post racial society. … We are pleased that the L.A. branch withdrew the award and that the [branch] president subsequent to that resigned his position. … We pray that our nation uses this [incident] as a teachable moment to understand that we still have some rivers to cross. we were very proud and pleased that corporations withdrew, the commissioner of the NBA stood very strong, and the the athletes, many of whom have never said nothing about nothing stood up and spoke out. It was a moment that crystallized the reasonableness of people regardless of race and orientation.”
Much of the evening’s discussion focused on the D15 campaign to fight for fair wages and the right to form a union without interference.
Among the other famous faces in attendance were U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Lansing; Democratic U.S. Reps. John Conyers of Detroit and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Skillman Foundation President and CEO Tonya Allen, North Carolina NAACP President Rev. Dr. William Barber, New Regency Productions executive Bryan Smiley, Talmer Bancorp. Chairman Gary Torgow and Real Times Media CEO and Michigan Chronicle Publisher Hiram Jackson. Special guests included Shaun Robinson of Access Hollywood and Bryan Smiley