BY PENNY DICKERSON
The Volusia-Daytona Beach branch of the NAACP held its 42nd Annual Freedom Fund and Awards Banquet on May 30 and gave recognition to two national civil rights heroes. Also acknowledged were leaders whose contributions have made a significant difference locally.
This year’s theme was “The NAACP: Pursuing Liberty in the Face of Injustice.” Hundreds of local members and guests convened at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort for the event. Among them were Henry “Hank” Thomas and Janie Forsyth McKinney – two names synonymous with civil rights and the Freedom Riders.
“The Freedom Fund Banquet is our premier fundraising event, where NAACP supporters celebrate an evening that is committed to strengthening community relationships while building bridges for all in the city of Daytona,’’ Cynthia Slater, branch president, said prior to the event.
Bravery in 1961
Throughout the evening, the NAACP reflected on the issues that African-Americans and other minority groups have faced for hundreds of years. Thomas was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, men and women who boarded the first Greyhound bus that traveled the South in 1961 to protest segregation.
They endured violent confrontations by Whites hurled racial epithets, beat them to the point of injury and burned their bus. The experience is personified through Thomas who served as a face of injustice beyond his Freedom rides.
Thomas talked about his experience as a Freedom Rider and the importance of the work still done by the NAACP.
He discussed the killings of Black men around the country and lauded Daytona Beach Police Chief Mike Chitwood on the way he handles situations in the community as well as his involvement in the Black community.
Raised in St. Augustine, Thomas participated in sit-ins there and later in Maryland and Virginia. While a student at Howard University, he became one of the founders and an active participant in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), a student arm of the civil rights movement.
Janie Forsyth-McKinney joined Thomas as a special guest at the NAACP banquet. When she was 12 years old, she assisted the Freedom Riders while they were being attacked in 1961 by a White mob that surrounded and set fire to the bus filled with Freedom Riders outside of Anniston, Ala. (including Thomas).
McKinney is credited with providing buckets of water and assisting the injured when the riders struggled off of the bus and stumbled onto the lawn of the girl’s family grocery store.
In addition, the local NAACP presented three awards to that commitment to making an impact that fosters local community change.
The award went to Mykal Tairu, Florida program coordinator of the Vincentian Reentry Organizing Project (VROP). The organization is the leader in a partnership that includes the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
Tairu has served at the helm of “Ban the Box,” an initiative to remove the box job applicants are to check if they have been convicted of a crime, regardless of the nature of the crime, when it occurred, and at times, what (if any) relevance it has to the job for which they are applying.
Community Service Award
F.A.I.T.H. (Fighting Against Injustice Towards Harmony) received the Community Service Award.
The non-profit identifies itself as an interfaith, congregation-based community organization that operates through sub-ministries within Volusia County.
Notable achievements in the area of crime and drugs include success in getting the Daytona Beach commission and police chief to double the size of the city’s street level narcotics unit; education initiatives with Volusia County School District to improve reading ability for at-risk youth; and increasing Halifax Hospital facilities for uninsured residents to receive primary care.
Lucille O’Neal, the recipient of this award, is best associated with Shaquille O’Neal, but the mother of the retired NBA player is a superstar in her own right. Author of the best seller, “Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go, she returned to school after raising four children and aptly chose Bethune-Cookman. She graduated cum laude in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and later earned a master’s of business administration in organizational management at the University of Phoenix.
The B-CU School of Nursing’s Odessa Chamblin Wellness Center was named after O’Neal’s mother who was a nurse. Endowed nursing scholarships have been funded by the Odessa Chamblin Quality of Life Fund and the Lucille O’Neal Lecture Hall in the School of Nursing building was made possible by contributions from O’Neal’s children. She also is a member of B-CU’s board of trustees.