The Annual Freedom Fund Dinner is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Dane County’s signature event and Gwen Jones, NAACP Dane County’s Chair of Communications, could not be more happy with its keynote speaker this year, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes.
“When we started to plan this event, I really wanted our national president, or somebody from NAACP national to keynote, but the more we thought about and talked about it in committee, the more we thought how great it would be to have the first African-American Lt. Gov. in the state of Wisconsin’s history keynoting our Freedom Fund Banquet,” Jones tells Madison365 in an interview at Barriques Coffee Shop on South Park Street in Madison. “We just thought that would be better. So, we were really pleased when Mandela said yes.
“He is such a young man; yet he is so accomplished,” Jones adds. “It really makes me wonder what his trajectory is going to be and where he’s going to end up. Right now, all things are possible for him.”
The Dane County NAACP will hold its sixth annual Freedom Fund Dinner at The Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor’s Club on Saturday, Sept. 28. It’s a night where old acquaintances from decades of Madison’s civil rights struggles meet up and reminisce, but Jones says that she’s happy that she will be having some young people at the banquet.
“Simpson Street [Free Press], we’ve worked a lot with them and some other youth, as well. We are happy that they are coming,” she says. “Remember when Obama won and kids could see a president that looked like them … Now, these kids have somebody local that they can look up to and aspire to be [in Mandela Barnes]. It makes it a lot more real for them.”
The theme for this year’s Freedom Fund Dinner will be “When We Fight, We Win.” Jones says that part of that is referencing voting power.
“We are all about voting – getting people out and to the polls. It’s not enough just to get people registered. They have got to vote,” Jones says. “There was quite a bit of voter suppression going on in Wisconsin the last election. It was ridiculous. And voter apathy was a factor, too.
“People feel like they have nothing to lose. Two-and-a-half years later, we see what we have to lose,” Jones continues. “Everything. We cannot just sit around idly and let things happen to us. We got to get out there and really be the change and make that difference.”
Jones says the second part of “When We Fight, We Win” is about the census.
“The NAACP is solidly behind the upcoming census in 2020 because our communities, our neighbors – us – all have so much to lose if we don’t participate because when you think of all the things that are attached to the census and if you are not counted, for whatever reason, that’s going to be a long-lasting problem,” Jones says. “They only do this thing every 10 years.
“That means if you are not counted – whether you be black, white, brown or other – you will not be a part of that economic fabric because nobody knows you’re there,” she adds. “So we’re going to work very closely with the census committees to get people to open the door and to participate in the count.”
These topics and more will be discussed at the annual NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner, which will begin with a Community Reception at 5:30 p.m.
“We will have a very good reception,” Jones says. “Andrew McKinney will be deejaying … he will be turning it out once again. He did such a great job last year.”
The dinner and the program will follow. The NAACP Dane County will be recognizing their ACT-SO participants, five extremely talented youth who represented the Madison area in the 2019 National ACT-SO Competition held in July in Detroit. The students representing Dane County were: Abdoulahi Bah, Maurissa Powell, Danielle Crim, Yahya Jarju and Yasmin Trammell, all from Dane County area high schools.
“Five amazing young people went to the national competition and we brought home two national silver medals,” Jones says.
The two National Silver Medals are both from FItchburg – Danielle Crim, daughter of Dawn and Elton Crim, for music composition and Maurissa Powell, daughter of Rebecca and Maurice Powell, for dance and ballet (choreography and performance).
“We will recognize all five students at the Freedom Fund Banquet. To win at the local level and get to go to the national competition is a huge accomplishment, but to get there and win at the national level, that’s a really big deal,” Jones says. “We’re very proud of all the students.”
Compared to many chapters around the United States, the NAACP Dane County chapter is pretty new having started just six years ago. Membership is at about 300 right now, but it’s a small percentage that does a lot of the work. That’s why Jones is hoping to recruit more members at the banquet.
“The Freedom Fund Banquet is a really fun event. You see people that you haven’t seen, sometimes, since the last banquet. The major focus on the Freedom Fund is membership because that’s what it originated as … it’s the big membership push for the NAACP,” she says. “Right now, our branch is six years old and we are building. One of our biggest issues is that we have so many societal issues and challenges going on right now in the Dane County area, that we need as many hands as we can to do this work.”
The mission of the NAACP is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. The NAACP Dane County is working on issues like education, housing, health, voter education, criminal justice and combatting racial discrimination.
“There are so many things to choose from; so many issues to work on. Often in this community, I feel like we’re playing a game of whack-a-mole. What else has popped up?” Jones asks. “We want to be thoughtful and deliberate in what we do, but with so many things popping up, that’s not easy. We get calls from everywhere from Dane County north. When people have issues, they go to the first one they can find and they land on Dane County [NAACP.]
“This Freedom Fund Dinner is pretty much the only fundraiser for us, so it’s very important,” she adds. “I’m really hoping that it energizes people. This is not about us right now, it’s about the future and what we want this country to look like moving forward. We have a lot of work to do.”
The Dane County NAACP will hold its sixth annual Freedom Fund Dinner at The Madison Concourse Hotel & Governor’s Club on Saturday, Sept. 28.