NAACP chapter celebrates with 44th Freedom Fund Banquet


The Montgomery County-Radford City-Floyd County Branch of the NAACP held its 44th Freedom Fund Banquet recently in Latham Ballroom at the Inn at Virginia Tech.

Four hundred and twenty 420 members and supporters attended, and there were 34 sponsors. The welcome was given by the Mistress of Ceremonies, Dr. Karen Ely Sanders. Custom Vibe, comprised of Denise Smith and Alan Johnson on vocals, Glen Holmes on keyboards and Kelly Gravely on drums, provided musical entertainment.

A memorial ceremony for members deceased since the last banquet was led by Rev. Lee E. Suggs, Sr., and Youth Council Vice President Melvin Palmer.

After dinner, greetings were brought by Branch President Deborah H. Travis, Radford University College Chapter President Kenai Hunt, VT College Chapter Treasurer Camryn Taylor and Youth Council President Allison Foster.

Political Action Committee chair Karen Jones described upcoming NAACP events and encouraged attendees to participate. In a commemoration of the importing of enslaved Africans to Virginia 400 years ago, Dr. Ellington Graves of Virginia Tech summarized some of that history, concluding, “Slavery was fundamental to the economic development of the colonies and then the country. The United States is a lesser nation because we have never come to grips with the legacy of slavery.”

The branch recognized its 2019 Samuel H. Clark Scholarship winners: Zamora White (CHS student going to NRCC), Kyanna Holmes (CHS student going to NRCC) and Xavier Kane (Blue Ridge HS student going to Campbell University). The branch also recognized the William Alderson Memorial Scholarship winner, Alexandra Yau (of VT).

Fully-paid Silver Life Membership plaques were presented to Anne Hess, Allen Palmer, James Tolliver and Melissa Matusevich.

Sponsors of the banquet were recognized by banquet co-chairs Deborah Travis and Allen Palmer. The Gold Sponsor, at the level of $2500, was the Virginia Tech Office of the President. Silver Sponsors, at the level of $1000, were Carilion New River Valley Medical Center; Food Lion, Inc.; the Radford University Office of the President.; the Virginia Tech Office for Inclusion and Diversity; and Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Church.

Bronze Sponsors, at the $800 level, were Alpha Kappa Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Asbury United Methodist Church; Christiansburg Institute and Alumni Association; ColorsVA Magazine; Habitat for Humanity of the NRV; Huntington, Huntington & Huntington, PLLC; LewisGale Hospital, Montgomery; Moog, Inc.; the Montgomery Co. Democratic Committee; United Auto Workers, Local 2069; and Wolverine Advanced Materials. There were 20 Community Sponsors at the $600 level.

The Nannie B. Hairston Award for long-time service to the NAACP and the community went to Karen E. Jones. The award was presented by DyAnne Penn with assistance from President Deborah Travis.

Karen Jones runs her own office services business and is associate publisher for ColorsVA Magazine and the Meals on Wheels Coordinator for Radford Fairlawn Daily Bread. She volunteers with multiple local service organizations, such as the Old Hill School Community Center, the Christiansburg Institute, and the Girl Scouts.

In addition, she devotes a great deal of time to community organizing through voter registration, get-out-the-vote and voter forums.  She is an active member of Asbury United Methodist Church, where she has served on numerous committees and organized several Community Conversations over the last two years on topics such as homelessness, hunger and discrimination. 

Within the NAACP, Jones has worked with young adults, criminal justice and especially political action.  She also currently serves as Area 10 chair.  Jones grew up in Christiansburg, graduating from Christiansburg High School and then Radford University with a major in Speech Communication with a concentration in Public Relations.  She is the daughter of James Jones, Jr., and the favorite aunt of 13 nieces and nephews.  She previously received the branch’s MLK Community Service Award in 2016.

The banquet keynote speaker was Mr. Jeff May, Jr., who is a motivational speaker, a philanthropist and a community activist. May is well-known in the Roanoke area for work with Total Action for Progress (TAP) and the Roanoke City Schools. He started and coached the debate team at Westside Elementary School in Roanoke in 2013 when it won national recognition and a first-place Magna Award from the National School Board Association. May has won numerous awards for his work as a community and youth advocate. He now serves as Youth Development Director for the Cumberland County School District in Fayetteville, N.C.

May spoke on the topic of “Are You with Us?” He encouraged attendees to “Stand with those who are weary of politicians who take our votes for granted, and owners who take our business for granted.” He praised teaching as a true ministry, and said that as a teacher, “I meet students where they are, but I don’t leave them where I found them.” We can “help our youth find a pen that will enable them to write their own narrative.”

He reminded listeners that “young people are watching you, and they no longer buy the ‘do as I say, not as I do’ line.” Our legacy for our children will be “how we respond to this moment in time.” May proposed that there are three kinds of people in the world: Those who make things happen, those who watch things happen, and those who say “what just happened?” He encouraged listeners to be the first kind of person. “But you can’t shift anything unless your mind shifts first,” he said.

President Deborah Travis presented the guest speaker with a gift of appreciation from the branch and then encouraged the attendees to take up the charge from the speaker. A silent auction of a number of items donated to the branch, organized by Lynn Brammer, raised $1015 for future branch activities.

The banquet concluded with a benediction by Dr. James C. Klagge, after which the attendees held hands and sang “We Shall Overcome” to indicate their commitment to continuing work for civil rights and the betterment of all people in the New River Valley.

The branch holds its general body meetings on the fourth Sunday of each month at 3:30 p. m. at the Old Hill School Community Center, 570 High Street in Christiansburg. Everyone is welcome. The branch will hold its 2020 annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Celebration on Sunday, Jan. 19, at 3pm at Schaeffer Memorial Baptist Church. Again, everyone is welcome.