NEWARK, NJ — Irvington’s NAACP hosted its 37th annual Freedom Fund Banquet at the B.F. Johnson Fellowship Hall in the Metropolitan Baptist Church in Newark on Friday, Oct. 4. Also serving as a fundraiser for the organization, the event helps subsidize organization expenses that arise in the course of the year, as well as the annual fee to the national association.
“I’ve spent 38 years with the church in Irvington and we provided a home for the local NAACP while I was there for those years and we’re still meeting there now. Even though I’m not the pastor, we’re still meeting there monthly now,” said the Rev. William Rutherford Jr., retired pastor of the Greater New Point Baptist Church in Irvington, who serves as treasurer of the Irvington branch of the NAACP.
“The NAACP has meant a lot to the township of Irvington because, at the time of our chartering, there was a change taking place. There was white flight, white people were leaving and black people were coming in. But the white people wanted to maintain all of the jobs, even though they were working outside of the community, and the NAACP worked to change that around. We’ve gotten black people, over time, in the jobs that the white people had before the change took place.”
In an interview before the event, Rutherford, the former president of the Irvington branch for 18 years and the state NAACP president for four years, shared his anticipation for banquet, the first for current Irvington NAACP President Thurman R. Dancy.
“Every NAACP chapter in the state has a fundraiser and this is our fundraiser,” Dancy said in an interview on Friday, Oct. 4. “Newark will have one. Whatever city in the state. This is an annual event and it just helps offset some of the expenses for the year. We’re expecting a bunch of people coming out tonight and we’re very excited about it. We have great food and we’re looking forward to this event.
“I am pleased to say that I observed the three awardees as they were growing up. As one of the organizers of the Irvington NAACP branch, going back to the 1980s, we have seen some significant changes in our town since our first president, Elizabeth Everett, took office in the Irvington branch.
“We were always striving to get the youth involved. Dr. Neely Hackett, Pastor Rutherford III and Aliyyah Connie Torres are examples of what we hoped for,” Dancy said, adding that Torres, who received this year’s Youth Service Award, had started her community service at just 5 years old, working on former Councilman David Lyons’ campaign. Lyons died in August.
“A few years ago, the branch received a charter for our Youth Chapter. I look forward to getting youth involvement back,” he added.
The event highlighted community leaders such as Rev. H. William Rutherford III, son of the Rev. William Rutherford Jr., who is now the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Orange. The younger Rutherford was pleased to receive the Community Service Award at the event.
“I am honored to be here tonight,” Rutherford told the Irvington Herald. “The NAACP is the oldest civil rights organization in this country. They’ve done a tremendous job for people of color, from a legal standpoint, in fighting for our rights, and I’m honored that they’ve chosen me to be one of their honorees tonight. I’m excited. We’ve got a lot of people here and I’m looking forward to having a good time.”
Irvington Superintendent of Schools Neely Hackett, who received the Education Award, was unable to attend the event. At the event, Board of Education employee Jennifer Parris, quoting Hackett, said, “There’s nothing specific that I need to say, other than I am humbled, and I thank you very much for recognizing me in education.”
The Rev. Thurselle Williams, the executive pastor of New Hope Baptist Church of East Orange, stood in for the Rev. Danielle L. Brown, who received the Religious Affairs Award. Williams said, “On behalf of Dr. Brown, I’m honored to stand in her stead tonight. She is fighting the good fight in Perth Amboy, working with the school board, youth church and that’s what it’s about. People say a separation of church in state, but I believe that it takes all of us to get the job done.”
Adopting the phrase “If we fight, we win,” which segued into a sermon that not only brought guests to their feet but made the banquet feel like a Sunday Service, Williams said, “I am honored to, first of all, be here and to even be a part. I believe in the work of the NAACP trailblazers and the rights of all people but certainly people of color. I just believe the work has to continue. It’s not over. The climate of our country, the leadership, lets us know the work is not over. For the next generation, it’s really just beginning.”
Torres, who is a senior at Rutgers University, expressed her pride at the event.
“I’m almost done and I’m ready to get out,” Torres said. “I’m an economics major now, minoring in business and African studies. I feel like my degree is just the beginning for me. I have a lot more to do and I’m not done.”
In response to Williams’ sermon, Torres said, “Tonight, was very inspirational. I feel as though Rev. Williams, she really put a good word on me. She placed a mark on me that made me feel as though I have to go out and get what I need to do. I feel as though I had a bunch of obstacles standing in my way and she made me realize that, even though there are obstacles in my way, I just have to approach it with joy, approach it with pride, approach with my feet 10 toes down and just do what I have to do. So that really lifted my spirits, gave me good motivation to do what I have to do.”
And Marilyn Rutherford beamed as she watched her son being honored.
“I am so proud of him,” said Rutherford. “The work that he and his church is doing in the city of Orange, I’m proud of all of them and I think it’s just phenomenal. They do a wonderful job; they have a wonderful outreach and they’re doing what churches should be doing.”