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National Association For Advancement Of Colored People Freedom Fund Banquet Non-Event 2020 By Lorene King

#WeAreDoneDying was the theme for this year’s NAACP’s 58th Annual Freedom Fund Non-Event, which was posted on their webpage (, and on YouTube, on October 24. The theme emanates from the unprecedented, spiraling deaths of Blacks from senseless gang activity, police killings of African-American males, and most recently, the disproportionate number of minority fatalities due to infections of the Covid-19 Virus. The NAACP’s National office dubs this pandemic of death “the worse outcomes on all fronts.” In all categories, indeed, Blacks and other minorities face the highest percentage of collateral damage.

In addition to bringing attention to needless dying, the theme also serves to highlight the efforts of heroic and dedicated individuals in our local community, who have been engaged in working hand in hand with others to encourage, teach and inspire our youth to seek higher aspirations, and set life-giving goals to stem the adverse impacts of brutality, sickness and dying. This is the 3rd year that local community leaders have been recognized for their commitment and contributions to criminal and social justice, education and the arts, health, and societal well-being. These areas parallel the NAACP’s advocacy focus for 2020-2021: Climate and Environmental Justice; Criminal Justice; Economic Opportunity; Education; and Health at local, state and federal levels.

Traveler Newspaper publisher Elise Allen received the Harry Sephus Trailblazer Award for her longstanding contributions to outstanding journalism and advocacy for the underserved. Peoria Public School Director of Safety “Chief” Demario Boone earned the John Gwynn, Jr. Courage Award for his contributions not only to safety but also for encouraging his officers to understand social and emotional needs of children, and not to focus only on behavior. Educator Hedy Elliott-Gardner received the Donald Jackson, Sr. Game Changer Award as a dedicated GED instructor in the Peoria County Jail, Proctor and Logan Centers, and public school elementary teacher. Grant and Jean St. Julian were honored with the Sam and Jean Polk Humanitarian Award for their work in public school education, science and scientific journals, music, library science, music and academic scholarships, NAACP lifetime memberships, and financial support. You may read the details of their awards on the website.

Our honorees and the local branch of the NAACP are not alone in their shared endeavor to enhance inclusive and progressive movement for minorities in the Peoria community. The NAACP has a partnership with the City of Peoria, Shared Principles with District 8 State Police; sponsorships from organizations such as AARP, Ameren Illinois, CEFCU, Illinois American Water, Illinois Central College, POINTCORE, Church Women United, and elected officials State Senator Dave Koehler, State Representative Jehan Gordon-Booth. These partnerships and sponsorships are in collaboration with the memberships of NAACP Regular and Life Members to help support operations. All are in step to help remove Peoria from the list of cities that are labeled as ‘detrimental’ to African Americans and restore it to the coveted status of a truly All-American City!

If you would like more information on how to get involved with the Peoria Branch of the NAACP by becoming a member and using your personal and professional skills to make a positive difference, follow the NAACP Facebook page for upcoming meetings and public events. Join the national mantra to help “Fight for equality during this uncertain time. We are done dying.”

The NAACP’s Peoria branch meets monthly on the third Thursday of each month, at 7:00 p.m., via Zoom, during COVID Restrictions. Meetings at 101 McArthur Highway will resume when it is safe to do so. Everyone is invited to attend and learn with President Rev. Marvin Hightower. You may become a supporting member by paying dues of only $30 per year.