Freedom Fund Banquet

Maria Scruggs

Dear Editor:

While launching planning efforts for the St. Petersburg NAACP’s Branch 2017 Freedom Fund Celebration in January 2016, the executive committee was challenged to think deeper about our 2017 Freedom Fund Celebration.

We started by claiming 500 guests and the challenge was for the committee to think beyond serving  500 people  eating some chicken, hearing some speeches , hearing  some songs and maybe see people receiving an award or two! The challenge was that once the fanfare was over, to educate so that we can begin to elevate collectively as a community.

The St. Petersburg Branch NAACP has worked hard over the last 16 months to host a celebration that would lead us closer to building genuine partnerships in the battle of social and economic justice for all people in St. Petersburg.

My starting point began with my finger pointing inward at us collectively and as us as individuals. I am a true believer that we are the key to our own economic and social success. The role of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations should be to simply force leaders of these institutions that hold on to the systemic practices of racism to remove the barriers that we know simply exist due to one’s religion, race or ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation, or economic status as the basis for denying access.

We were intentional on holding our Freedom Fund celebration on Juneteenth for two reasons: to bring a sense of awareness around a holiday that celebrates a part of African-American history, and secondly to begin the honest discussion that we have got to eternalize the thought of freedom by freeing ourselves from psychological bondage and practices that continue to keep us oppressed and depressed socially and economically.

I have been back in St. Petersburg since 1987 and since that time I can’t begin to count the number of banquets and celebrations that I have attended—all for good causes—but outside of attending the event, and maybe attending next year if the food and entertainment was good enough, I was never challenged beyond simply purchasing a ticket and supporting a community-based organization.

Those were good reasons, but for me, I believe that if any time we have the opportunity to gather 500 people in one place for any given event we need to ensure that we use that venue as an educational opportunity.

The 2017 Freedom Fund Celebration is being brought back to the community in hopes of igniting the recognition that if we want to engage the leaders in this community about “real” economic opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses, we must at every opportunity create those opportunities ourselves.

We must begin to create events of excellence that not only provide minority-owned businesses opportunities but also present our community in a positive light. It is troubling when you have five African-American boys from south St. Petersburg makes the NFL draft and to this date if there has been a mention other than their proud family members on Facebook it has been a whisper.

While the primary purpose of the Freedom Fund Celebration is to raise money for the NAACP‘s operating funds and to create economic opportunities for businesses within the black community, the least the NAACP can do is dedicate a page in honor of our black boys whom have made the NFL draft in hopes that we begin to highlight our collective strengths in hopes that others will catch the bug too!

It is not too late if you are interested in attending the St. Petersburg Branch’s 2017 Freedom Fund celebration. Tickets will be sold at our general membership meeting Tuesday, May 23 at 6:30 p.m. or you can purchase tickets online at

Maria L. Scruggs, President, St. Petersburg Branch NAACP

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