Greater New Haven NAACP marks 100th anniversary at Freedom Fund Dinner

NAACP Greater New Haven Branch President Doris J. Dumas, right, presents the Cornell Scott Health Award to Ena Williams at a previous Freedom Fund dinner.

NAACP Greater New Haven Branch President Doris J. Dumas, right, presents the Cornell Scott Health Award to Ena Williams at a previous Freedom Fund dinner.

NEW HAVEN >> NAACP Greater New Haven Branch President Doris J. Dumas said the organization is celebrating its longevity by reminding the community that its founding message remains its credo.

“From the beginning, when the NAACP was chartered, the people in the community come to the NAACP to have a voice, to have someone that they trusted, to have someone that would stand up with them, to fight for them,” Dumas said.

This happened from day one and continues to this day, in new platforms and arenas, Dumas said.

“We’ve moved on and advance,” Dumas said. “We continue to fight for access to opportunities.”

This week, the organization at its annual Freedom Fund gala Thursday will recognize a century of community involvement as the local chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People celebrates 100 years since its founding.

“Unfortunately, we still are fighting,” Dumas said. “It’s celebrating that we are still here. ... We also know that we could not be here for 100 years without our members, our corporate members, the lawyers who have gone to court ... regular people who have marched.”

The Centennial Anniversary Freedom Fund Dinner will include three honorary co-chairmen, including Yale New Haven Hospital President and CEO Marna Borgstrom and New Haven Interim Superintendent of Schools Reginald Mayo.

“We felt that they would be significant in our centennial year because of what they bring to the table and their support for equal rights and the things we are standing up for,” Dumas said of Borgstrom and Mayo.

The event will also include 2017 Living Legend honorees Marvin K. Lender, Roger C. Vann and Lula Mae White.

Event chairwoman Nicole Murphy said the 100-year milestone is a “major achievement.” The gala regularly draws thousands to a who’s-who of community activists, educators and local figureheads from the region.

“It’s a testament to, one, the fact that this is a collaborative effort,” Murphy said. “It also shows you that our vision is still very much something that has to be actualized.”

This year’s celebration will occur under President Trump, a Republican whose unpopularity with non-white voters sat at 77 percent disapproval rating in the latest Quinnipiac University poll published April 4. According to CNN exit polls, Trump won 8 percent of the black vote and 29 percent of the Latino vote during the 2016 election. Dumas said there are concerns for the NAACP community with some of the choices and legislation supported by the new administration, but it won’t stop them from pursuing the organization’s goals. This includes standing up for voters’ rights, Dumas said, an issue which drew controversy in places such as North Carolina last year.

“There are some concerns with people in our community,” Dumas said, referring to Trump’s administration. “We are letting them know that we are watching this closely. All politics are local.”

The 100th anniversary dinner’s theme is, “100 years rooted in strength, justice and equality.” It’s a mission statement that could have easily been ascribed to any past dinner, but takes a special meeting to remind, as Dumas said, that their mission “stands strong.”

Keynote speaker Roland S. Martin, a media personality and former CNN contributor, will be tasked with fusing the NAACP’s message of determination while celebrating the organization’s landmark.

“We definitely thought he would be able to bring a celebratory message, a message of enthusiasm,” Murphy said, continuing, “to inspire people to continue this crusade and fight for justice. We wanted to bring someone who had a lot of energy and people would be excited about.”

Martin’s message, like the dinner itself, is meant to reinvigorate the NAACP and its supporters.

“We know that sometimes when you are doing this work and you’re fighting for justice, we know that a lot of times you can get weary and you can get tired,” Murphy said. “Sometimes it’s just good to be able to celebrate our victories and remind ourselves how great our accomplishments have been.”

The Freedom Fund Dinner takes place Thursday, starting at 7 p.m. at the Omnie New Haven Hotel at Yale, 155 Temple St.

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901.