By Mark Farkas
ALEXANDRIA, VA –While “Thriving Together” was the official theme of the Alexandria NAACP’s 90th Anniversary Freedom Fund Gala, the need to keep striving together in the hopes of forming a more perfect union was also a clear message of the branch’s Saturday evening fundraising dinner at the Westin Old Town hotel.
“Every generation has to do its part to make sure the republic gives everyone an opportunity to participate,” said keynote speaker Rep. Jennifer McClellan of Virginia’s 4th Congressional District and the first Black female elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from the Commonwealth. “Because in a government by, of, and for the people, we reflect the perspective and therefore meet the needs of the people who participate. And most of this country’s history has been over a battle making sure that included us.”
With a diverse crowd of about 400 making up a virtual who’s who of Alexandria City activists, office holders, school board members and state level NAACP leaders, the dinner celebrated the founding of the chapter on October 10, 1933 at a mass meeting held at the Alfred Street Baptist Church, and where things stand today.
“This night represents a period of time where we can stop and not only take a look back on those that have come before us and the footprints that we stand in, but it also gives us the opportunity to reflect who we are as a people, as a community,” said Alexandria NAACP Branch President Darrlynn Franklin in an interview.
“Everyone’s walk of life is different and everyone may or may not experience discrimination in their lifetime. Some people do. Some people don’t. Some people are blind to it while others are not. Some people shy away from it while others face it down.”
Facing it down and owning up to the city’s past, impacting its present state, and trying to change the future were two organizations and three individuals selected for community service awards at the dinner. The honorees included for their ongoing efforts this past year were:
- The Alexandria Community Remembrance Project (ACRP) for its citywide initiative to educate citizens about Alexandria’s history of racial terror hate crimes and to work toward creating a welcoming community through equity and inclusion
- Concerned Citizens Network of Alexandria for providing support to disenfranchised city populations
- Ebonee Davis for her work with the Virginia Theological Seminary’s Reparations program
- Kiki Davis and Joe Wenger for their Racial Healing Seminars held for city residents
“Every honoree is teaching us something about us as a people and about our community and how we only thrive when we thrive together,” said Franklin.
With veteran DC Journalist Tony Perkins emceeing, the evening moved back and forth quickly between the intersection of Alexandria’s and the nation’s past and present struggles over race. The currently divided political climate of the country was also front and center with the keynote speaker issuing a plea for activism.
“It’s up to us to make sure the next generation understands their history and more importantly their role in our future. It’s up to us to make sure that we vote like our lives and our democracy depend on it, because they do,” said Rep. McClellan. “I need you to preach to your children, and your grandchildren, ‘cause I’m scared. We’re in a backlash, and that’s why the NAACP is more important than ever. So 90 years….we have come a long way but we’re backsliding. We’ve got to dig deeper. Find the resiliency and resolve our ancestors had. Recognize each and every one of us are our ancestor’s wildest dreams, and make sure the dream doesn’t die. And because of the Alexandria NAACP, it won’t.”
But as the dinner neared its close, current Alexandria City Council Member and former Alexandria NAACP President John Taylor Chapman reminded those in attendance about the need to support the branch financially and otherwise.
“Each of us knows exactly what this branch means in standing at the forefront of the fights. We’ve done a good job in this community in being progressive, but we are not perfect. We know that our kids are struggling and that housing is an issue that hits certain communities harder. And so our fight is not over. We cannot rest on our laurels.”
“One of my favorite quotes is from Thurgood Marshall,” said current branch president Franklin in summing up her approach and the future mission of the NAACP in Alexandria. “The quote is where you see wrong or inequality or injustice speak out because this is your country. Or, in my words, this is my community. This is your democracy, make it, protect it and pass it on. And that is what we’ve done and will continue to do.”