NAACP unit honors local men

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Celebrating the theme “Freedom is never granted, but won; Justice is never given, but taken,” the Oranges and Maplewood unit of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held its 105th annual Freedom Fund Awards Ceremony on April 29 at the Wilshire Grand Hotel in West Orange.

This year’s celebration honored five community members for their dedication to the mission of the organization: Rev. Terry Richardson, Barry Carter, Rev. Anthony Johnson, LeRoy Jones Jr. and Rev. Ronald Slaughter.

Richardson was honored with the Spiritual Award; he has served as the senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of South Orange since 1997. Carter, an award-winning columnist for the Star-Ledger, was honored with the Community Award. Johnson, who serves as chairman of the Committee for an Elected Orange School Board, was honored with the Education Award. Jones, the current chairman of the Essex County Democratic Organization, was honored with the Political Award. Slaughter, the senior pastor of St. James AME Church in Newark, was honored with the President’s Award.

“Our honorees for this year were selected because they are strong men doing positive things in their communities,” Freedom Fund Committee Chairwoman Mary Puryear said at the event. “They have the ear of a large audience and they are influencers and they use their powers for good.”

Freedom Fund events are the major fundraising activity for all units of the NAACP. The proceeds from this event finance the yearlong programs sponsored by the unit in the areas of education, housing, economic development and youth programs.

“The Freedom Fund event is usually held around the time the unit was chartered, and our unit was founded in April 2013. The needs and challenges the community is facing at the time determine how the money will be used for the year,” unit President Tom Puryear said in a recent phone interview with the newspaper.

Tom Puryear said that much of the programming that the organization does throughout the year is based directly on what the current issues are in the community, and the organization’s goal is to create a culture of being proactive to concerns instead of reactive.

“We address everything from school district concerns in South Orange and Maplewood to the lack of affordable housing options available in Millburn,” he said. “We’ve done programs at Messiah Baptist Church on the impact of students not having access to the internet, and in the fall we’re going to do a large-scale workshop to assist parents in understanding how they can be stronger advocates for their children’s education, and also how they can prepare them to be school-ready.”

Education is a significant aspect of the NAACP’s programming efforts, one of those being the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics, or ACT-SO, a yearlong achievement program designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievement among black high school students.

“One of our major goals for this year is to raise the funds to send our ACT-SO gold medalists to the national competition in San Antonio, Texas,” Tom Puryear said.

This year the Maplewood-Oranges unit will be sending three gold medalists, all from East Orange, as part of the New Jersey delegation of students to the national competition in San Antonio: Anisaa Jean Pierre will compete in the category of written poetry; Adriana Nunez will compete in the category of painting; and Jaquan Success will compete in the category of architecture.

“This has been our most successful year so far with this program; it’s an honor to be able to send three students to the national competition,” ACT-SO Chairwoman Beverly Rogers said in a recent phone interview with the newspaper. “We recruit high school students in the fall when the school year starts, and then we hold bi-weekly meetings that span the length of the entire school year.”

In addition to linking students with mentors for their chosen categories, Rogers said she also provides workshops for students on time management and how to balance schoolwork and personal life, as well as strategies for how to incorporate their ACT-SO projects into their daily lives.

“I co-chaired this committee for a few years before taking over as the chair of it this year. I’m a mental health counselor and I enjoy working with teens and helping them through their life challenges,” Rogers said. “Our goal is to help instill lifelong skills for well after they finish the competition. Their hard work shows; in addition to our three gold medals, we also had three silver medals, one bronze medal and six honorable mentions. Adriana is her class valedictorian and will be attending Montclair State in the fall to study art education, Jaquan will be going to Howard University in the fall to study architecture and Anisaa will be entering her junior year of high school in the fall.”

Photos Courtesy of Maurice Best