| The Daily Record
WOOSTER Ayesha Bell Hardaway offered a way forward.
“We are not here because we are afraid or that we have failed to have a vision or a plan,” said Hardaway, keynote speaker at the Wooster-Orrville NAACP’s Freedom Fund event, about the Black community. “We are here because America has yet to reckon with the horrors of its past and present.”
Hardaway – an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Law, director of the Social Justice Law Center and co-director of the Social Justice Institute – addressed how the community can move through a tumultuous period for Black Americans. The Freedom Fund event was held virtually Friday evening and focused on themes of racial equity and justice.
The event opened with a collection of photographs from local and national protests in recent months. Some of the images were from events hosted by the Wooster-Orrville NAACP, such as the Juneteenth Liberation March for Black Lives and a rally commemorating the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
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Growth for NAACP chapter
John Clay, president of the local NAACP chapter, said the organization has given him a chance to grow as a human being and provide service work in the community.
“When I took this position in 2017, there was less than 100 members,” he said. “We currently stand at 400-plus members. The political climate, the hatred and violence going on in this country has done a lot to increase our membership.”
Clay introduced several NAACP committees and their chairs, who shared their missions. He highlighted Kevan Franklin, MLK chair; Mady Noble, essay contest chair; Lawrence Walker, membership committee chair; James Ratliff, veterans committee chair; Bernadette Paul, health committee chair; and Oliver Warren, political action committee chair.
Clay, who said it was his last Freedom Fund as president, also mentioned the environmental justice committee, which is new and will focus on water quality, safety and disaster safe houses in the area. The committee is seeking members.
Duke Price, a former scholarship recipient, briefly thanked the NAACP for its aide when he was in high school. It propelled him into the business world, where he now works as a business analyst at Remington Products in Wadsworth, he said.
Where do we go from here?
Carolyn Buxton, a member of the NAACP, introduced Hardaway.
The two began journeys at the College of Wooster in the fall of 1993, Buxton as former associate dean of students and Hardaway as a student who was heavily involved on campus. Hardaway’s son is a member of the Class of 2022 at the college.
She started by telling those tuning in at home that Black Americans come from “a wonderfully brilliant set of thought leaders,” such as Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells, Fannie Lou Hamer, Thurgood Marshall, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.
“Our forefathers and foremothers fought tirelessly, far too often giving their lives to remove the yoke of oppression from our necks,” she said.
Hardaway made clear Black people are not at fault in America’s race problem. Instead, she said, “the powerful and privileged” are the problem.
“My point is that we don’t find ourselves, here in 2020 amidst a pandemic that has disproportionately ravaged our communities while also literally demanding that the nation recognize the value of Black lives after innumerable instances of senseless police violence, simply because we lack a vision,” she said.
Hardaway said she couldn’t offer new tools for moving forward but explained Black ancestors offer a roadmap. So many of them, even if their approaches differed, fought hard for Black liberation. She urged the importance for those without resources or strength to stand up for themselves.
A key message in her speech was this: The Black community needs to hold white people accountable, especially those who claim to be friends and not foes.
“White people need to move from asking us what they can do to learn more about racism or the plight of Black people,” she said. “They’ve got to start talking to their family members, friends, colleagues and those they know that are part of the problem and demand that they adjust their behavior or risk being exposed.”
White individuals should also take action to be sure their appointed and elected officials are transparent and held responsible for the ways “national institutions aid and abet systemic racism and white supremacy,” Hardaway said.
She ended her speech with a quote from King: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”
Awards and honors
The Freedom Fund event is the local NAACP chapter’s largest fundraiser. Proceeds from the event and an online auction will go toward funding local NAACP activities and scholarships for the area’s Black students.
The organization, through the Wayne County Community Foundation, has awarded more than $45,000 in scholarships in the last decade, said Bobbi Douglas, who is executive director of OneEighty and chair of the Freedom Fund planning committee.
On Friday evening, Noble, who serves as treasurer of the NAACP, received the Lydia Thompson Humanitarian Award.
The Community Enhancement Award went to the Charles Follis Committee, which is focused on honoring the Wooster legend who many consider the first African American professional football player.
The event was also dedicated to David Broehl, who was well known in Wooster and died Monday after a four-week battle with COVID-19, Douglas said prior to the event. Broehl served as assistant secretary of the local chapter.
The Freedom Fund event is normally a dinner, but because it was held online this year, the NAACP partnered with local restaurants to support the fundraiser. Muddy’s, for example, offered customers the chance to add a donation to their bill Friday and Saturday.
Spoon Market & Deli and The City Square Steakhouse also agreed to donate a portion of patrons’ carry-out orders to the fundraiser, if they wanted to get a to-go meal to enjoy while they watched the online event.
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