QA’s NAACP re-chartered, recharged
QUEENSTOWN — The reorganized and rechartered Queen Anne’s County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Branch 7024 held a scholarship banquet at the Bay Country Moose Lodge No. 831 in Queenstown Saturday afternoon, April 30. According to Master of Ceremonies Alvin White, a portion of the program was to “bring recognition to the churches in the struggle for their contributions to the African American community” as they have worked alongside the NAACP over the past 100plus years since the organization’s founding in 1909.
Indeed, more than 20 local black churches were recognized during the program for their support of the Freedom Fund of the NAACP, helping enroll the minimum number of members to maintain a local branch (50 members). The original branch was formed in Queen Anne’s County in the early 1970s when the percentage of African American population in the county was nearly 30 percent of the total county population. Over the years, as the original founding members aged (most are now deceased), the local branch began to fade as the African American population declined to less than 8 percent of the county’s population, as it is today.
The branch lost its charter three years ago. A successful effort was made in the past year to bring the charter back. April 30 marked the re-establishment of an official branch again in Queen Anne’s County, with former Queen Anne’s County Board of Education member L.C. Lawrence as president. The theme for 2016: “Now is the Time!”
Keynote speaker for the banquet was Dr. Barbara Wheeler, retired Kent County Superintendent of Schools (2008 — 2013). Wheeler, who resides in Chestertown, served as an educator, teacher, and a wide range of administrative roles in the public schools of Maryland in four different counties and Baltimore City for 45 years before retiring in 2013.
Her heartfelt talk moved the 132 mostly African Americans who attended. Wheeler began by acknowledging the NAACP as “the nation’s oldest and most widely recognized grass-roots civil rights organization, campaigning for equal opportunity and conducting voter mobilization.”
“Despite dramatic courtroom and congressional victories, implementation of civil rights has been slow, painful and often times violent,” she said, adding, “Our work is far from done.”
She shared a personal story of discrimination she experienced in the early 1960s as a high school student in Baltimore City, where she lived in Edmondson Village, which was still largely white at that time.
“There were only a few African Americans that attended the high school,” she said. “I remember walking over to the village shopping center to the ice cream store with friends, only to be told that I could not sit at the counter and eat my ice cream. The embarrassment of being turned away in front of a counter full of kids is still excruciating as I think of the experience today.”
In her talk, Wheeler was extremely critical of schools for failing children, especially children of color.
She said, “In each of the five school systems where I worked, I found pockets of mediocrity and even in the same schools, pockets of excellence. The most egregious was the lack of academic achievement of students of color. The fact remains that our children are many times being deprived of educational opportunities and rigorous instruction because of the color of their skin. They are provided mediocre instruction and tedious boring task at best.
“We know what effective instruction looks like,” she added. “We know that all children can learn.”
As superintendent, “I found it appalling that I had to literally beg for funds to provide education for children,” Wheeler said. The response was always “there is no money.”
“I realize money alone will not make a great school system. However, what I know for sure is that without financial resources school systems will not be competitive as far as attracting and retaining talented teachers. Schools will not be excellent if personnel are mediocre,” she said. “Without adequate funding the infrastructure of schools will begin to deteriorate. Over time poorly funded public schools will have a major impact on the entire economy.”
Wheeler also drew association to failing schools in perpetuating a failing criminal justice system.
“Our criminal justice system is a pipeline from ineffective, underfunded schools to overcrowded jails where people are perfecting their skills at becoming even worse criminals and bitter human
beings,” she said. “Taxpayers are paying $80 billion in America to keep people in prison for one year. Just think about that! The U.S. has 5 percent of the world population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Today we have 2.2 million people in prison.
“Obviously, some folks need to be locked up and for a long time. Violent criminals, murderers, rapists need to be in jail. However, many prisoners are locked up for non-violent offenses. Many times the punishment doesn’t fit the offense. The U.S. imprisons a larger percentage of its black population than South Africa did at the height of Apartheid. These young men are part of a growing under-caste, permanently locked up and locked out of mainstream society. They have no training, no skills, no job and no hope.”
She gave numerous examples of what $80 billion could be used for as positive alternatives to incarceration.
She encouraged parents and grandparents to get involved, come to their children’s schools, demanding better schools and school results for all children.
“American governance must really mean ‘We the People,’ not we the privileged.” she said.
She advised, “Hold children accountable for their actions in school and thus their learning. As parents, we must set good examples. Turn the TV off.
Stop texting and have meaningful conversations with your children.
“I’m so grateful to the many people of all races and creeds who sacrificed so much so I could go to school and have the opportunity to enjoy the American dream. I would not be here were it not for the leadership and perseverance of the NAACP.”
She closed by saying, “Let us all stand together as human beings, as Americans, and rebuke racism and injustice and embrace the words of the great Martin Luther King … ‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.’”
Freedom Fund Chairperson Marsha Wilder presented the branch’s first Community Achievement Award to Eric Daniels, parent coordinator at Sudlersville Middle School, for his work and involvement in the community.
L.C. Lawrence concluded the program by recognizing all of the founding members of the original QA branch, reading all their names, and personally recognizing George Gould and Madelyn Hollis, who were present.
The program was enhanced by performances of The Burke Family Singers. The delicious banquet meal was provided by Helen Todd Catering of Centreville.
The county NAACP branch meets at 7 p.m. the third Thursday of each month at the Grasonville Community Center. The public is invited.
Members of New United Methodist Church of Chester, L.C. Lawrence, Debbie Lawrence, Sharon Starkey, Kim Kelley, Rev. Monica Potter, Rev. Turhan Potter, Mary Reed, Paulette Middleton, Mary Spence and Iwoyna Brown (not pictured, Victor Brown) accept a recognition certificate at the Queen Anne’s County NAACP program Saturday, April 30, in Queenstown.
Queen Anne’s County NAACP Branch 7024 Freedom Fund Chairperson Marsha Wilder, left, presents the Community Achievement Award to Eric Daniels.