By Erick Johnson, Gary Crusader
With race relations and civil rights issues boiling in America, the Gary chapter of the NAACP is calling on residents to take action and become more active in their community engagements more than ever before.
The call comes as the branch prepares to hold its Annual Life Membership Banquet at 5 p.m. on Saturday, June 2 at the Genesis Convention Center.
Former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the first Black woman to ever hold the position, will be among several distinguished guests to speak.
Lynch will share the guest speaker role with the Honorable Gonzalo P. Curiel, District Judge for the U.S. District Court of Southern California. Branch President Stephen Mays, and Indiana State Senator Eddie Melton, who serves as Honorary Chairman will also be in attendance. Dorothy R. Leavell, also an Honorary Chairperson and publisher of the Crusader Newspaper Group (Gary and Chicago) and Chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), also will attend.
Making this banquet a Who’s Who event will be the President and CEO of NNPA, Benjamin F. Chavis. Earlier this year the NAACP and the NNPA made an unprecedented move to work together and pool their resources to step up the fight to advance and defend the interests of Black America.
The rights of Blacks and minorities in Gary and across the country are imperiled under President Donald Trump, whose populist message “Make America Great Again” has reignited racial tensions and threatened to roll back the civil rights gains that Black America has achieved in the past decades. With the heated mid-term elections in November, the new rules governing the U.S. Census count, the plight of Gary Schools and the state joining a lawsuit against Gary as a welcoming city, NAACP leaders are urging Blacks everywhere to turn up their involvement in politics, education and social issues that have torn apart the Black community in recent years.
With all 435 seats in the U.S. House up for reelection in November, Black voter suppression remains a serious concern in the wake of numerous reports of Russia spreading fake news in the Black community and meddling in the 2016 elections to help elect President Trump. The arrest of two Black men at Starbucks in Philadelphia has sparked a wave of 911 calls on people of color who are unsuspecting victims of racial profiling in restaurants, parks and schools.
“Now is the time to fight. We have come too far to allow decades of hard work, sweat and bloodshed to be vain,” said Leavell. “The Black Press stands by the nation’s oldest civil rights organization in calling on Black America to take their community activism and engagement to the next level. The future of Black America is at stake.”
“The NAACP must remain steadfast, unmovable and never silent about the things that matter,” said Stephen Mays, president of the Gary branch of the NAACP.
At the annual Life Membership Banquet, Lynch and Curiel are expected to address civil rights, immigration and other legal challenges the country is facing under President Donald Trump. Lynch became the nation’s most powerful attorney after her predecessor Eric Holder, the first Black U.S. Attorney General, stepped down in 2015. She was nominated to the position by former President Barack Obama.
Like Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, Lynch has a bachelors and J.D. degree from Harvard University.
As head of the U.S. Justice Department, Lynch investigated the practices at several police departments across the country that were accused of racial profiling and police brutality. Days before she left the department in January 2017, Lynch’s department released a scathing report on the Chicago Police Department for its treatment of minorities in the wake of the Laquan McDonald case. Lynch also made headlines after she opposed then FBI Director James Comey, who called for an investigation into the personal emails of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton 11 days before the presidential election in November 2016.
Curiel gained national attention while presiding over two class action lawsuits against Trump University. The president’s university was accused of making “tens of millions” of dollars off its students who were promised a legitimate education and services. Both cases were eventually settled out of court for $25 million.
During his campaign for the White House, Trump repeatedly called Curiel a “hater” and described him as “Spanish” or “Mexican,” suggesting that Curiel was biased because of Mr. Trump’s calls to build a wall along the border to prevent illegal immigration.
Curiel was born in East Chicago, Indiana, the youngest of four children. His parents emigrated from Mascota, a small Mexican town near Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco. Curiel received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana University in 1976 and his Juris Doctor from the Indiana University School of Law in 1979.
The NAACP is the largest and oldest civil rights organization in the country. The Gary chapter is one of the largest branches in Indiana.
The annual Life Membership Banquet is a premier event in the community and is expected to attract over 450 business, political, educational, civic and religious leaders in the region.