The Arlington NAACP’s 71st-anniversary Freedom Fund Banquet was a chance to look back on progress, but also to press for vigilance so it doesn’t slip away.
“Do we still have a need for organizations like this to exist?” Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Christian Dorsey asked before offering his own verdict. “Civil rights that have been won can be undone. That progress had many struggles and many setbacks along the way. The work is not yet done.”
The banquet on Oct. 13 drew a large crowd to the Sheraton Pentagon City Hotel. It occurred after a year’s break so the event could be streamlined and redefined.
“I’m so excited – we sold the house out,” Arlington NAACP president Karen Nightengale said. “We pushed and we pushed and we made this happen.”
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the event’s keynote speaker, echoed Dorsey’s comments that efforts to promote “acceptance and tolerance and diversity and inclusion” must be an ongoing endeavor.
“The battle that the NAACP was founded to address will never end,” Kaine said. “There’s so much at stake. We have to look for ways to advance.”
Kaine encouraged those in attendance to serve as mentors, helpers, advocates and friends to those less fortunate.
“Be the hero,” he said. “You can be. You should be.”
The national NAACP was founded in 1909, with the Arlington branch organized in 1940. “This was a very different country and a very different Virginia,” Dorsey noted.
Neville Welch, an Arlington NAACP member and the evening’s master of ceremonies, said that to maintain the positive trajectory of the organization’s successes, a three-word mantra was required: “Organize, organize, organize.”
Among those honored at the event was Rev. John Nicholas, who has served as pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church since 1975. During his tenure, the Columbia Pike church has expanded its ministry to the community, and has been active in the regional VOICE [Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement] social-advocacy effort.
“I’ve just tried all my life to be a servant to people,” Nicholas said in accepting the President’s Award for Distinguished Service. “I pray that I can continue to live up to your expectations.”
Other honorees at the event:
• The National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice received the Charles P. Monroe Civil Rights Award.
• Benedetta Kissel was presented the Henry L. Holmes Meritorious Service Award for her work in voter-registration efforts.
• The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington earned the Willard W. Brittain Jr. Community Appreciation Award.
Also saluted were scholarship winners Dexter Merritt Jr. (University of Maryland Baltimore County), Sophia Nowlin (Virginia Commonwealth University), Helen Nowlin (Bowie State University), Cayla Harrison (College of William and Mary) and Kayla Bankhead (Norfolk State University).
“Help enable college attendance,” said retired U.S. Navy Capt. Lutrelle Parker Jr., whose family endowed one of the scholarships and urged others to do the same. “We need college graduates.”
Recipients of life-membership awards were Kissel, James Younger, Debra Brittain and the Bee Hive Club Inc.