By Carmen M. Woodson-Wray
This year, the Life Membership Banquet of the Gary NAACP branch is celebrating its 100th birthday. The Centennial Celebration and Annual Life Membership Banquet will be held Saturday, June 4 at the Genesis Convention Center beginning at 6 p.m.
This year’s theme is “Our Lives Matter, Our Votes Count.”
According to Steve Mays, president of the Gary branch, they are anticipating to install close to 100 new Life Members to the 1,300-member organization.
In addition to the Life Memberships being recognized, other awards will be given out throughout the evening. They include the Traveling Church Trophy, The Judge William Dunn Award named in honor of the branch’s first president who served in 1916. Other awards include The Ben F. Grant Award, which was named after him as a prominent doctor in the Gary community. Grant increased the membership by starting the Life Membership program and the Attorney Hilbert Bradley Award.
The speakers for the evening will be Chief Counsel of Investigations for Boeing World Headquarters and Gary native Esquire Lawrence Oliver II who is Senior Vice President of BNC Bank Chairman Thurman “Tony” Smith.
As president of the Gary branch for the past three years, Mays along with the branch have worked to bring business opportunities, political change and community awareness in Gary.
“The Gary branch represents all of Lake and Porter Counties except East Chicago and Hammond,” Mays said. “For several years the branch has been working in the forefront of many political issues and recently challenged charter school boards from trying to place more charters in our community.”
This year, young people who have been involved in the Gary branch have been very active in the local NAACP ACT-SO Competition. Representing the ECIER (Educate, Create, Innovate, Entrepreneur, Relationships) Foundation was Ryan Brown, who won a gold medal in the Engineering Category and competed in the national competition. He was coached under the direction of branch member Denise Dillard.
For the first time in 13 years, the Gary branch in 2013 hosted the Annual NAACP Indiana State Convention that drew hundreds of members from throughout the state to the city.
The Gary branch was organized by a group of residents that felt a need for an organization that would monitor and defend the rights of Blacks in Northwest Indiana. Just like the national organization, the Gary branch serves the community by combating injustice, discrimination and unfair treatment within the society.
This year’s honorary chairpersons for the event are Mamon and Cynthia Powers. Mamon said the celebration of the centennial year is special as he recalls as a teenager going to the Crystal Ballroom to attend NAACP events. He said, “This is why this celebration is special to me.”
Cynthia said this Life Membership Banquet is a momentous occasion. She said, “The Gary branch has been in the national mix since the NAACP’s inception. We are so proud of it. Mamon and I became Gold Heritage Life Members back in 1988 and our children are Jr. Life Members. Our daughter was 12 and our son was 9 at the time. We have encouraged citizens to do likewise. We are encouraging our grandchildren so they can walk across the stage and recognize that Our Lives Matter, Our Votes Count.”
Tickets for the Centennial Celebration and Annual Life Membership Banquet are $100 and can be purchased by calling (219) 775-5507.