UMES President Speaks at NAACP Banquet—Looks to Future
By Deborah Gates • Staff Writer • The Daily Times
SALISBURY (Oct. 3, 2010) -- Organizers of the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet in Wicomico County have always invited a guest speaker with ties to education, but at Saturday’s fifth annual milestone event, the task was reserved for a university president.
Thelma B. Thompson of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in nearby Princess Anne warned the audience that an attitude of indifference in the current era of economic and social infirmity would erode future opportunities for the community's youth.
"The family is under assault," said Thompson, citing a growing rate of single heads of households, illness and record unemployment. "We must hold together the strength of the family through unity and solidarity. We must reach out to youth in particular."
Close to 200 people attended the banquet at First Baptist Church in Salisbury, an event that Wicomico County NAACP branch President Mary Ashanti said drew fewer guests this year because many supporters traveled to Washington that morning to attend the One Nation Working Together rally for job creation, diversity and tolerance.
She called Thompson's attendance "an important presence" as the community struggles with
economic and social issues that impact the educational performance of youth.
"This year, it was important that we got Thelma Thompson," Ashanti said of the 13th president at UMES who also is a writer and international figure in education. "If you look back, most speakers have been educators or had ties to education -- one of the No. 1 priorities for the NAACP. It is the one component that can move you from poverty to success."
Thompson spoke on the theme "embracing family, instilling education and ensuring economic security for all" and urged the audience to take command of their child's education, rather than pass off all of the responsibility to teachers and other influences.
"We must take responsibility and work with teachers," she said. "Just because you send your
child to school every day, it doesn't mean that they're learning."
Economic and social success, she said, is dependent on family engagement and education.
"The economic situation of a family drives everything else," Thompson said.
"Given the right opportunity, they can be successful; they have the brain power," Thompson also said. "(But) many end up as drug dealers."
Sandra Martin, treasurer of the Wicomico NAACP, recalled that the 1909 founding of the NAACP had a mission to "make right the injustices and unfair treatment of the Negro." While lynching and race riots of the early 20th century have passed in America, "there is still a need for the organization," she said.
The Freedom Fund Banquet is a signature fundraiser for NAACP branches across the country
to continue to fight injustices for all people, not just blacks, Martin also said.
"The cause or reason may not be lynching, but there is still the disparate treatment of human beings because of their social or economic status," Martin said. "Fighting the injustices is hard work and it takes money to move forward. The Freedom Fund Banquet is one of the sources used to help get the job done.
Ashanti called on elected officials and candidates for political office in attendance to put political
agendas aside for the common good of humanity.
Rick Pollitt, Wicomico County executive, called the occasion a time to reflect upon what's important.
Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton praised Ashanti's efforts to help record residents for the 2010 census, calling her "a valued partner in inspiring participation."
Constance M. Stewart, director of the Sojourner-Douglass College branch on the Lower Shore,
received the NAACP branch's Community Service Award for her contributions to the community.
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Reproduced with permission of The Daily Times, Salisbury, MD.
Pictured from left to right are: Rev. Lewis N. Watson, pastor of First Baptist Church and a UMES alumnus; UMES President Thelma B. Thompson; Mary Ashanti, president, Wicomico County branch of the NAACP; and Rev. Hugh Nichols. Dr. Thompson was the keynote speaker at the fifth annual Freedom Fund Banquet held at Rev. Watson’s church in Salisbury.