By Danette Mitchell
The Tri-City NAACP (Vacaville, Fairfield and Suisun City) recently hosted its sold-out annual Freedom Fund Gala at the Sunrise Banquet Hall and Event Center in Vacaville with a theme of “Stay Awake to Avoid the Rollback of Our Progress.”
The keynote speaker was 81-year-old Bobby Seale, Founder of the Black Panther Party, and Dr. Claybon Lea, Jr., Senior Pastor of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Fairfield, who also spoke.
Seale talked about his days in the Black Panther Party founded in 1966 with Huey Newton. The Party’s goal was political unity. He said at that time, there were about 50,000 people in elected political offices yet only 5,000 were African Americans. He also said the Party was instrumental in getting some blacks elected to political offices and that he ran for mayor of Oakland. The Party spearheaded a number of community social programs that included the Free Breakfast for Children program.
Seale said while in prison, he endured many beatings and was always under the watchful eye of former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover who labeled the Party a radical group and tried to discredit them. Yet their membership grew and included chapters in Oakland-San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Philadelphia.
Seale also mentioned that he and Newton drafted the Ten-Point Program that established the direction and goals of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense that included education, fair housing and an end to police brutality.
Johnicon George, Sr., President of Tri-City NAACP, said his takeaway from Seale’s speech was that blacks must educate themselves not only academically, but also politically. The community needs to make sure that it puts qualified people in political offices and get people registered to vote.
Dr. Lea’s speech, titled, “Lessons from Selma,” consisted of five points to facilitate social change. They were: know that the vote is more powerful than the voice, empower and entrust local leaders, engage voters early and often, equip activists with resources including money, and enforce accountability of elected officials which was a significant takeaway for George, he said.
As president of the Tri-City NAACP, George’s top goals for 2018 are to model the NAACP plan used in the recent Alabama race that mobilized African Americans and helped lead newly-elected Democratic senator Doug Jones to victory. His other goals are to impact Solano County’s 2018 elections by also bringing together other local organizations such as the Fairfield-Suisun City-Vacaville Section of the National Council of Negro Women and the Northern California Democratic Club.
The Tri-City NAACP recognized several individuals for their outstanding work in the community. Other awards given were the Presidential Medal of Freedom award to the Rev. Oneal Young, Jr. and the Young Adult Presidential Freedom Award given both to Roman Robinson and Madison Marie Young.
Throughout the event, live entertainment was provided by soloist Khela Campos with keyboardist and DJ Tosh for the dance portion of the night.