While the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Dane County Branch is less than two years old, its officers and members are no spring chickens.
“We’re a young branch with old members,” says Greg Jones, the president of the NAACP Dane County Branch. “Not old in age, but old in terms of the journey for justice and the pursuit of fairness. These folks in our branch have been involved in so many organizations and have so many life experiences … and they bring that to bear. Our branch has really benefited from that.”
The NAACP Dane County Branch will host the 2015 Freedom Fund Dinner and Gala titled “Pursuing Liberty in the Face of Injustice” Oct. 23 at the Sheraton Hotel. This will be the 2nd annual event for the Dane County NAACP branch which was chartered in May of 2014. “This year we’re really focused on trying to bring a message to the community that would be timely and relevant,” Jones tells Madison365 in an interview at Barriques on Park Street. “That message will be brought by a very inspirational person, Deborah A. Thomas from Wayne County, Michigan. We are very excited about her and about the event.”
Thomas is a judge of the 3rd Circuit Court in Wayne County who was first elected to that position in 1994 and was re-elected in 2000, 2006, and 2012. She ran for election to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2014.
“I first saw her on MSNBC’s [The Last Word with] Lawrence O’Donnell. In that show, she demonstrated to me that she had a concern for all who came through her courtroom,” Jones says. “The way she tweaked her sentencing approach by requiring young people to go back to school and finish their GED, that motivated some folks to go on and get a bachelor’s degree, too. Many of those young people bring those certificates back to her and she plasters her courtroom with them. How inspiring is a courtroom filled with people she touched?”
The 2015 Freedom Fund Dinner and Gala will feature Stan Woodard as the master of ceremonies. District Attorney Ismael Ozanne will introduce the keynote speaker.
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. While Jones has been busy planning the annual banquet, he’s also been busy doing the daily work of the NAACP Dane County that follows that mission.
Prior to this interview, Jones had spent the whole day downtown at the Capitol Building waiting to speak against SB295 Bill that makes changes to the election process and eliminates special registration deputies. “The bill also makes a fundamental change in the voting machines that are used and approved by the Government Accountability Board,” Jones says. “We feel, at the NAACP, that voting machines are a fundamental tool for the election process and ought to be tested, certified, or decertified by the Federal Elections Commission. We think that that’s a standard that ought to be in place for elections in Wisconsin.”
The struggle for voting rights are deeply personal for Jones who saw the nastiness of Jim Crow firsthand as a child growing up in Laurel, Mississippi. “I can recall when the Voting Rights Act passed how jubilant black folks were to say, ‘Now we have at least one chance to speak for ourselves,’” Jones says. “My grandmother, when she finally got that chance to vote, she walked downtown and picked up that pencil and paper and voted. My landscape is personal when we talk about voting.”
The Shelby County v. Holder decision in 2013, Jones says, removed some of the fundamental pillars of the Voting Rights Act. “The removal really stripped away not necessarily a guarantee, but a warranty, to a Constitutional right called voting,” he says. “When that happened, many, many states just began to throw out and implement a great deal of restrictive and supressive practices and policies. Wisconsin was no exception.
“In the last 3-4 years there has been a lot of what I like to call ‘fraud-claim talk’ about issues in the voting process and issues among voters who are fraudulent voting,” Jones adds. “Well, that’s unacceptable as a rationale for policies and procedures and, personally, I take exception because that’s not the case. It’s never been proven.”
The mindset of voting opportunities has shifted significantly since Holder. “That’s not going to stop, either,” Jones says. “That’s why I think that the NAACP was visionary when it said that one of its pillars now and forever will be voting protection and voting rights. They were wise and wisdom always wins.”
“We’re a young branch with old members. Not old in age but old in terms of the journey for justice and the pursuit of fairness. These folks in our branch have been involved in so many organizations and life experiences … and they bring that to bear. Our branch has really benefited from that.”
Voting rights is just one of the many area where NAACP Dane County is hard at work. The NAACP Dane County Housing Committee is busy handling complaints and queries about issues affecting housing. The Labor and Industry Committee is working hard on planning an upcoming summit. “This summit will address black worker experiences. I think it will be critical when we take a look at the larger landscape of the wage issues and discourse that we are having,” Jones says.
The NAACP Education Committee has been a part of many community discussions and conversations with MMSD Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham. “While the NAACP has not been the strongest force in terms of academic achievement, we’ve added our voice to that discussion,” Jones says. “I think as we look closer at what’s happening with outcomes – particularly testing outcomes – and what’s happening in the schools for ALL students … we will be able to offer a voice to the District and its policy guidelines in the area of student achievement.”
The 2015 Freedom Fund Dinner and Gala will not only be a chance to talk about all of the work that NAACP Dane County has done in its year and a half of existence, it will also be time to look towards the future.
“From the moment the 7-8 people came together to get the Dane County NAACP branch chartered, I remember asking each and everybody around that table, “Why are we here?’ and ‘What do you want to see?’” Jones remembers. “I remember saying to the group that I want to have a visible and viable NAACP branch.
“We are still working on that today – viability and visibility – but at the same time we have to build those important relationships throughout the community in the public and private sectors and, more importantly, in the community,” he adds. “The NAACP in its true function and fashion is a grassroots organization. The Dane County NAACP should be helping to create pathways for other organizations to create better lives of others. In doing so, we will be creating better lives through our work as a civil rights organization.”
For more information about “Pursuing Liberty in the Face of Injustice,” the 2015 Freedom Fund Dinner and Gala, click here.