By Joan K. Marsh
The Gary Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) celebrated 100 years in 2016. It is the oldest and one of the most respected civil rights organizations in Northwest Indiana. The National organization was only seven years old when local civic leaders declared that Gary should organize a Branch to fight for the full equality of African Americans. Throughout our time, the Branch has been called to the forefront of most major political, social, educational and economic equality issues facing the citizens of Gary, Lake and Porter counties. The NAACP is the most relevant and recognized civil rights organization in the world. We are non-political and open to all people regardless of race, creed or color. Gary places third (3rd) in the National organization in the number of Life Members on our roll. For that, we thank all of you for working nonstop to sustain us.
As we summarize some of our achievements during 2018, we want to remind you of how your engagement and support has helped to make a difference in our community.
January – Supported Gary Ecumenical Council’s Annual MLK observance; kicked-off voter registration and membership drives.
February/March – Political action is vital to the Gary Branch. During February and March we took a bus load of NAACP members led by President Stephen Mays and Education Committee Chair, Rose Green Thomas, Ph.D. to the Indiana State House in Indianapolis to protest House Bill 1315. The Bill would expand the state takeover of the Gary Community School Corporation, strip the power from the citizen elected Gary school board and the state would appoint an emergency manager over the schools. The NAACP contingency was met at the State Capital by the Honorable Senator Eddie Melton. He held a press conference, and later spoke on the floor of the General Assembly in objection to the Bill. Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, City Council President Ronald Brewer and other distinguished elected officials were in attendance. Our efforts were influential in delaying the vote on this Bill by several weeks. House Bill 1315 eventually passed and was signed into law by the Governor. Other areas of the state now recognize how this legislation infringes on the rights of local citizens to have elected representation on the school boards. The Gary NAACP remains in opposition to what the Bill has created and continues to keep citizens informed and engaged by supporting efforts to hold the state appointees accountable to our community.
February – Supported a variety of Black history month programs and celebrations including the William Johnson Black film festival, and several talks and symposiums held throughout the area. Indiana University NW, Purdue University Northwest, the Gary city libraries and local churches hosted many of these events.
March – Supported the Youth Advocacy and Training Symposium organized by Dr. Marlon Mitchell and led by a representative of Organizing for Action (OFA). OFA is the organization responsible for providing resources regarding advocacy and youth engagement. This effort was partnered by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Indiana Advisory Committee in order to hold testimony on voting rights concerns and possible infringements in northern Indiana. It focused on the reduction of voting precincts in Lake County.
April – Held the first New Life Members reception. This successful event awarded the Gold Life Membership plaque to the Honorable, State Representative Charlie Brown. Brown was recognized for his decades of service as the former Representative for Northwest Indiana.
The Branch’s Afro-American Cultural, Technical and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) program is the youth performance division of the NAACP. Our diligent youth representatives, Denise Dillard, Lorenzo Dillard and Jeana Payne worked with local youth to produce six (6) gold medalists. These medalists traveled to San Antonio, TX in July for the National ACT-SO competition. Gary has a long standing, successful history of competition with the ACT-SO program.
June – Forty (40) new Silver and Youth Life Members were celebrated during our 53nd Annual Life Membership Banquet. The Honorable Loretta Lynch, former Attorney General under President Barack Obama and the Honorable Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel, from the United States District Court for Southern California and former resident of Hammond, Indiana spoke. The Honorable State Senator Eddie Melton and Mrs. Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Crusader were the honorary co-chairs. The Kickoff of this 53rd Annual Banquet was held at the headquarters of the Chicago/Gary Crusader on Broadway. Ten scholarships recipients were also highlighted during the Life Membership banquet.
July – Several Gary members travelled to San Antonio, Texas to attend the National NAACP Conference. At various times our members met with our Midwest Caucus, called Region #3, to support or speak in opposition on various legislative platforms presented at the Conference. The Gary Unit 3050 received national awards for membership and legal redress. One of Gary’s ACT-SO youth competitors Dwayne Coleman, won the First Place, National Gold Medal in the Performing Arts/Traditional Dance Category.
August – Gary co-sponsored a week-long basketball camp for 41 students as part of the Branch Skills & Drills Initiative. We also co-sponsored a field trip to the Chicago Bears National Football League training camp for 67 students. The youth participated in field drills with professional football players. We participated in several area back-to- school drives focusing on voter registration.
September/October/November – The Get out The Vote campaign is central to every NAACP Branch nationally. This past year saw a leap in that campaign as we supported the Voting Rights Advancement Act to repair, restore and strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and other voter rights supported bills. To address voting rights concerns of House Resolution 2978 and Senate Resolution 1419, NAACP members have written letters, made calls to National and statewide senators and house members and attended various events to address our position on this most valuable constitutional right granted. Over 20 voter registration drives were held in area high schools, libraries, public housing communities, and during area festivals and events, beginning January through October 6th.
December – Co-sponsored the annual luncheon for area homeless veterans, chaired by Nate Cain. We partnered with Grace Beyond for its Second Annual Food and Clothing Drive. We gave 25 coats to students burned out in area fires, conducted annual membership meeting and year-end reviews. At the Year End Celebration, new Executive Committee members were sworn in by Lake County Prosecutor and Silver Life Member, Bernard Carter.
Gary NAACP Meetings are held on the first Thursday of each month at 6:00 p.m. Stephen C. Mays, President, has been newly elected to a fourth term. The Branch is led by an Executive Committee comprised of civic and business leaders. There are 12 standing committees which support member involvement in working toward solutions to any number of local and national issues. Life Membership starts at $750 for adults and $100 for youth under the age of 13. Annual membership is $30 for adults and $10 for youth ($15 to receive the Crisis magazine). We encourage all members to attend meetings regularly and to join whichever committee suits their passion. Please visit our website, www.naacpgary.org and click on the Facebook page for ongoing information about the Gary Branch.
Joan K. Marsh serves on the Executive Committee and on the Communications/Publicity/Marketing Committee. She is a Gary resident and Silver Life Member.