ST. PETERSBURG – The St. Petersburg Branch NAACP held its 2018 Freedom Fund and Juneteenth Celebration Saturday, June 16 under an air conditioning tent at Vinoy Park.
President Maria L. Scruggs reminded everyone that as recently as last year’s gathering — even though it raised money — the “focus” was missing, specifically “why we do what we do.”
“So the celebration today,” she said, “and why we’ve asked you to join us today is because of the work that we must do tomorrow to end such social, economic and political inequity for people of color.”
In the 21st century, African Americans are still shackled mentally, she averred, and the purpose of the afternoon was to begin to acknowledge that.
“You can’t fix it if you don’t call it out,” Scruggs said. “And we’re going to call it out boldly; we’re going to recognize that a part of this healing is going to be with us understanding our history.”
She pointed out that the centerpiece jars filled with soil on the tables represented the more than 300 souls that were lynched in the state of Florida. She encouraged everyone to take them home as a reminder that before African Americans can reach any real social, economic and political justice, they must acknowledge how they got there.
Even today, though African Americans aren’t physically lynched as par for the course in this country anymore, she stated that “we are economically lynched, we are socially lynched, we are educationally lynched and we are politically lynched to the point that we don’t know what it looks like!”
She added: “We must own and we must acknowledge before we move forward.”
Scruggs presented this year’s President’s Award for community service to Chris Cooper, the first African-American K-9 officer with the St. Pete Police Department. Another President’s Award for demonstrating ongoing service and ongoing support of the NAACP’s mission went to the husband and wife team of Poul and April Hornsleth.
To illustrate just how long the Hornsleths have been honorably serving the community, Scruggs revealed that when she was a youth member of the NAACP at 16 years old, Poul and April were serving on the executive committee. Scruggs is now 60 years old.
“Everyone should be a part of the struggle,” Poul said. “It’s a lifelong commitment. You’ve got to keep moving forward and helping until true equal opportunity happens for all people in this great country. We’re all involved in it.”
During the annual appeal for membership, he added that though the NAACP is a strong organization, it’s not a strong financial organization and called for lifetime memberships. Other worthy organizations such as the Urban League receive corporate contributions, Hornsleth said, while the NAACP does not.
Treasurer Kent Channer conceded that though the organization has had issues in the past regarding its finances, it is now on a “solid foundation.” He noted that for the last three years under President Scruggs’ leadership, the branch’s financial statements have been audited by licensed, certified public accountants.
“We’ve gotten a clean bill of health,” Channer said, “and that’s very important to share because that means that every dollar that flows through the treasury funds is adequately accounted for.”
Monthly bank reconciliations, quarterly financials, and even the Freedom Fund celebration are properly budgeted, he added.
“So if anyone is ever concerned about the financial management of your local NAACP branch, I encourage them — give me a call,” said Channer, adding that this is the third year running that the branch is financially compliant with the national standards.
Political Action Chairwoman Erika Lopez-Zwolski pointed out that part of the NAACP’s job is to educate residents and voters of the candidates that are currently running for the school board.
“We’ve got to begin the process of educating ourselves about who we are voting for,” Scruggs emphasized. “The days of just showing up to the polls have gotten us what? Nothing! If we’re going to ever, ever expect to benefit from the people that represent us, we got to take time to learn about those individuals.”
This year’s Morris Milton Scholarship Award went to Timothy Garner, a Gibbs High School graduate who will be headed to the University of South Florida, while the Garnell Jenkins Scholarship Award was awarded to Deaja Henry, who will be majoring in nursing.
Both Timothy and Deaja received $1,500 to help ease the expenses of higher education.