“Bold Dreams, Big Victories” was the theme as the Three Rivers Branch of the NAACP staged its annual Freedom Fund Banquet Saturday evening (October 10th) at Three Rivers High School and honored a local pastor.
In remarks at the outset of the post-dinner program, Vice-President Brenda McGowan said, “The NAACP realizes that education is a great equalizer.” She noted that the local chapter awards two scholarships each year and the banquet is the primary means for funding the scholarships.
McGowan explained that the organization also contributes to the Glen Oaks Community College Upward Bound “Invest in You” Scholarship Fund by coordinating the annual Gospel Extravaganza and partners with Southern Michigan Bank and Trust to provide a $500 scholarship.
A highlight of the evening was presentation of this year’s Maeten Lewis Award to Pastor Tony Bennett of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church of Three Rivers. Prior to the presentation, McGowan introduced Lewis’ granddaughter, Fourth District City Commissioner Carolyn McNary, to provide some insights about her grandmother.
McNary said, “Maeten Lewis was a strong, committed woman to her family and her community. Maeten was a woman that had a vision of unity in this community. She spoke about the youth and about the races. She spoke about politicians and about human service workers. She talked about just what you could do. Everything was about what you could do. There is nothing that you can’t do here.” (Carolyn_McNary_clip – 1:33)
In introducing this year’s award recipient, McGowan said Bennett, who is her pastor, “has a heart for people in the community, particularly for youth. The one thing that stands out the most to me about him is that he sees what God sees in people, regardless of their present circumstance that they find themselves in. Pastor Bennett sees what God sees.” (Brenda_McGowan_clip :59)
Bennett was installed as the pastor of the New Jerusalem Baptist Church in July of 2003. In accepting the award, he said, “When I got to Three Rivers, I saw a great need for our young people. (I’m) not saying that they were being neglected, but it just seemed like they just needed somebody to encourage them. Not that I’m the only one in the city that encourages them, but I know when I come to these schools that I’m in there looking for them, not seeing what they’re doing wrong, but encouraging them to do right.”
Bennett said, “This particular award is not for me. It’s for God, for God working in the lives – and it’s for New Jerusalem.” (Tony_Bennett_clip – :48)
The keynote speaker for the evening was Reverend Neil Davis, District Superintendent of the Kalamazoo District of the United Methodist Church. In the course of a stirring address, one that noted the challenges of racism and picked up on the banquet theme of “Bold Dreams, Big Victories,” Davis said, “We should all be about the common good – the common good for anybody – because when the least of us hurt, all of us hurt in the long run.”*
In closing remarks, Liz O’Dell, President of the Three Rivers NAACP Branch, noted the front cover of the banquet program and the fact that 2009 is the 100th anniversary of the veteran civil rights organization.
O’Dell said, “The NAACP is for all of us. It is for the common good – the common good. We all will either rise together, or we will sink. It’s about time that we begin to wrap our arms around our brothers and our sisters and not look at the outside, but think about the inside and begin to work together.” And she said, “Michigan needs help. It’s going to take all of us to rise Michigan.” (Liz_O’Dell_clip – 1:34)
The Three Rivers Branch of the NAACP worked collaboratively with the faith-based community to coordinate the annual Back to School/Stay in School Celebration in which book bags filled with school supplies are distributed to as many as 700 students. The organization maintains open lines of communication between the Three Rivers Board of Education, local and county law enforcement, and county court officials and families. And this year, the St. Joseph County Bar Association recognized the Three Rivers Branch of the NAACP with the 2009 Liberty Bell Award for the organization’s outstanding contribution to the community.
*To hear the keynote address by Rev. Neil Davis (25:14 – 23.1 MB), click here.
Editor’s Note: This story was expanded at 1:47 p.m. 10-25-09 to add the link to the recording of the keynote address by Rev. Neil Davis.