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Less than two months away from mid-term elections, Americans will soon have a real chance to make huge changes in the direction of the nation through the electoral process. With that in mind, the national NAACP has adopted the theme “Defeat Hate. VOTE” and Madison’s local chapter of the NAACP will expound upon that theme at its annual NAACP Dane County 2018 Freedom Fund Dinner which will be held Friday, Sept. 28, at The Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club.

“Basically, we kind of blew it with the last election because people did not get out and vote,” Gwen Jones, Chair of the 2018 NAACP Dane County Freedom Fund Committee, tells Madison365 in an interview at Madison College. “And now people are having a whole lot of remorse about what has happened since then. And the only way to change it is not about taking papers off somebody’s desk or writing anonymous editorials – that’s too late – but to get out and go vote. And don’t just do it yourself; take somebody with you.”

This year’s event will be the fifth annual Freedom Fund Dinner for the Dane County NAACP branch which was chartered in May of 2014 with Jones as the original interim chairperson. According to the NAACP Dane County, the Freedom Fund Dinner is a long-standing NAACP tradition that merges two goals: to rally members, friends and community supporters to the cause of freedom and justice for all, and to raise funds to support the branch.

“So, this year we are really emphasizing voter registration drives,” Jones says. “We really want to get people thinking about how powerful their vote is.”

Delivering that message this year will be NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner keynote speaker Hilary O. Shelton, the NAACP Washington Bureau Director and senior vice president for policy and advocacy. Shelton is responsible for advocating the federal legislative and national public policy issue agenda of the NAACP, the oldest and most widely recognized civil rights organization in the United States.

“So, he will be in here to hopefully get Madison pumped up,” Jones says. “We’re really looking forward to hearing him speak.”

Gwen Jones, Chair of the 2018 NAACP Dane County Freedom Fund Committee

This year’s NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet will have a reception deejayed by Madison’s own Andrew McKinney and Mtrain will provide the music. The Freedom Fund Banquet is also a great chance to reflect on all of the activities that the NAACP Dane County has been working on over the past year.

“We have a lot going on right now, as we always do,” Jones says. “We were involved in the situation over in DeForest with the police chief and that stupid video.”

Jones is referring to former Deforest Police Chief Daniel Furseth, who submitted his resignation recently over a racist video that surfaced. “I joined [NAACP Dane County President] Mr. [Greg] Jones out there to testify to the Village Board about why he does not need to be the head of the law enforcement unit and we were very happy when they agreed and he was done.

“DeForest is a city with a very small minority population, but that is not what Wisconsin is supposed to be,” she adds. “How in the world are you going to grow when you harbor these ideas at the top?”

The Dane County NAACP is one of thousands of NAACP local branches that make up the NAACP national organization who work to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of all citizens. The local branch is constantly working on issues around discrimination and racism but also tackles issues like the disproportionate incarceration rate, education achievement gap, food deserts, housing, lack of employment opportunities, poverty, and more.

Photo of NAACP Dane County charter meeting

“There is so much work to do in this community, it’s not even funny,” Jones says. “Honest to God, Madison will keep you busy 24/7. Everything from our issues with our students in the public schools to our criminal justice system activities, housing.”

So this is an important fundraiser for the NAACP Dane County Branch because it’s pretty much the only fundraiser. The event costs $100 but the ticket to the Freedom Fund Banquet comes with a free NAACP membership.

“It’s not only a fundraising opportunity, but it’s a membership opportunity, too,” Jones says. “Because there is so much work to do in this community. It would be so nice to have a lot of members who are really engaged in these issues. I’m not sure that people understand just how much work there is that needs to be done.”

NAACP is an all-volunteer organization, so people are giving up their own time to tackle all these issues.

“But it’s worth it. It really is,” Jones says. “When you start seeing changes in the lives of others – your neighbors, your community members. When people come to you and you’re able to help them with their situation … I really think that’s what it’s supposed to be all about.”

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization. Its members throughout the United States and the world are the premier advocates for civil rights in their communities. In Madison, the Freedom Fund Banquet will be the place to be for many of those advocates to gather.

“It should be a fun night. We’re really hoping for it to be a sell out because this is our only fundraiser,” Jones says. “I’m hoping that we get some of our local politicians out for this event. It’s a great time for them to meet the people.”

And Jones hopes that young people come out. She says that she would just love it if they would see more young people at events like the NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner.

“We’re really looking to shift the average age,” Jones says. “We really want younger people to start joining this branch because those of us who have been in this thing for a while … I’m sorry, I’m planning on retiring at some point … and somebody is going to have to take over. Let’s get them in now.

“For young professionals who are committed to social justice and civil rights, this is a great event for them,” she adds. “And it’s a great organization to be a part of.”

The annual NAACP Dane County 2018 Freedom Fund Dinner will be held Friday, Sept. 28, 5:30-9:30 p.m. at the Madison Concourse Hotel and Governor’s Club. For more information about tickets and the event please click here.

Written by David Dahmer

David Dahmer

A. David Dahmer is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Madison365.

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