NAACP Awards Banquet honors local individuals and groups

Photo by Chris Sykes
From left, East Orange Firefighter Akeem Cunningham and Committee for an Elected Orange School Board members Judy Leight, the Rev. Anthony Johnson and Janice Morrell, stand with two members of the Young Professionals of East Orange on Sunday, April 29, at the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP Unit’s 105th annual Freedom Fund Banquet and Awards ceremony at The Wilshire Caterers in West Orange. The Committee for an Elected Orange School Board earned the award for its work in helping change the Orange public schools from a Type 1 District to a Type 2 District.

ORANGE/EAST ORANGE, NJ — The Oranges-Maplewood NAACP unit honored the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board at its 105th annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet at the Wilshire Caterers in West Orange on Sunday, April 29, along with a host of others, including East Orange Democratic Committee Chairman and Essex County Democratic Committee Chairman Leroy Jones, the Rev. Jerry Richardson of First Baptist Church in South Orange, Pastor Ronald Slaughter of St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Newark and journalist Barry Carter.

The Committee for an Elected Orange School Board members are Jody Leight, Mary Meade, Janice Morrell, Germaine Tarver, Karen Jeffries-Wells, Derrick Henry, Tyrone Tarver, the Rev. Anthony P. Johnson, Peter Learmont and his wife, Mary Reid-Learmont.

Oranges-Maplewood NAACP President Tom Puryear presented the 2018 Spiritual Award to Richardson, the 2018 Community Award to Carter, the 2018 Education Award to the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board, the 2018 Political Award to Jones and the 2018 President’s Award to Slaughter. The 2018 Alma Clay Award went to Mikayla Griffin.

Professor Antoinette Ellis-Williams of New Jersey City University was this year’s keynote speaker. The women’s and gender studies professor also teaches courses on black womanhood, diversity and difference; and women and leadership, among others.

The banquet also featured performances by the Maria Priadka Dance Troupe and Tyanna Virgil.

“In the spirit of Aida B. Wells, W.E.B. DuBois and William Trotter, who all helped in the formation of the NAACP, I accept this award,” said Carter of his Community Award at the event, adding “Thank you very much.”

Richardson said being honored by the NAACP nearly left him speechless.

“Words can’t express. We don’t do this for recognition. But I’m so glad of the NAACP, because of what they’ve done over the decades, to help bring equality and speak to unjust situations, to realize justice. it’s just an honor and I want to say thank you to Tom and the Oranges-Maplewood NAACP.”

Richardson said the timing of the 105th annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet was important, too.

“Many may not know that, right here in our area … in South Orange and Maplewood, we’re dealing with racism each and every day, and it’s really a story that is not told,” said Richardson at the event. “We’re dealing with bias in our school system. We deal with bias when it comes to our housing, so the NAACP is very important in this time and this period, because Tom has worked with me and sat at different tables with me in the community; everything from the school board to dealing with the police department in the area.

“We’re on shaky ground right now and, while one group is trying to redefine the borders, Tom is there just to make sure that he is bringing this voice of social equality and justice in a town where we experience injustice each and every day and it’s an untold story.”

Puryear said his work with the NAACP is a labor of love and it helps that he has allies such as Richardson and Carter.

“We’re working with 10 municipalities, so there’s a lot that has to be done,” said Puryear on Sunday, April 29. “These are the gentlemen that help me by providing information and also access to things I need to help make things better in the 21st century. There are a lot of challenges out there, in regard to what’s happening nationally.”

Puryear said it is important to recognize the hard work and achievement of the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board in helping change the Orange public schools from a Type 1 District to a Type 2 District. Johnson and the other members of the committee said they’re glad their hard work was recognized, along with the significance of what they helped accomplish in the Orange.

“The committee is the recipient of the Education Leadership Award and we’re pretty proud, because this is an award, not to an individual, but to a group of people who worked together to challenge politics as is in Orange and to make a difference in our schools,” said Johnson on Sunday, April 29. “It was a surprise when we got the nomination, but we’re certainly pleased by it. We have a series of elections coming up to actually fill the board, so we’re going to be working on voter education, so there will be a good turnout and voters can make good choices for the board.”

Johnson also had some advice for voters in the spirit of NAACP founders.

“If they’re voters, they need to watch the issues and the candidates and get out to vote,” he said. “If they’re not voters, they need to speak up to the board of education when it’s needed and they need to make sure the people who do vote get out and vote.”