At the Sedalia-Pettis County branch of the NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund Banquet, Open Door Executive Director Jack Menges was named the NAACP’s Person of the Year on Saturday at Best Western State Fair Motor Inn, 32nd and Limit.
Menges, who is also a minister, thanked the NAACP and Ida Shobe for presenting him with the award, and pointed out what a great community Sedalia is to live in.
“People don’t realize that this community works together and does more things in a hurry than a lot of places,” Menges said upon acceptance of the plaque.
“Everybody in this community, no matter what their status, helps with this community. I talk to people everywhere, and everyone says we’ve got one of the best communities because they work together. If you have something you want to get done and you explain it them logically, it will get accomplished,” Menges said.
Two 18-year old Smith-Cotton seniors were presented with $500 NAACP scholarships at the banquet.
Steona Overton, who plans to attend Lincoln University in Jefferson City, and Ta’Kayla Staten, who plans to attend SFCC this fall, were the recipients.
The scholarships are necessary for promoting “strong determination, self motivation and courage to preserve and accomplish the highest quality people in their educational achievements.” The scholarship recipients are a true inspiration. “Don’t let me down,” Ida Shobe told them.
Pettis County Clerk Nick La Strada was presented with the NAACP’s Martin Luther King Award for Outstanding Community Service. Longtime NAACP member William (Bill) Shobe was also recognized for his many years of faithful service.
In his remarks, Stephen Boggs offered words of encouragement. “When you stand behind somebody, you give that other person the will to go on and achieve, and they will pass it on, or pay it forward,” he said. “So you’re doing a great service than you realize.”
Guest speaker for the event was 2007 Smith-Cotton graduate Nacente Seabury, a previous NAACP scholarship winner, who spoke on the structural inequalities in the law when it comes to race. Seabury, 25, is currently in her third year of law school at Washington University in St. Louis.
“We still live in a highly segregated society,” she said. “Lower income schools have inherent structural problems that lead to low achievement. If you don’t have the correct books and computers, how do you expect people to actually work? How do you expect them to develop the skills necessary to improve their situation?” She asked. “Low achievement communities, statistically, are more likely to engage in crime. And it’s generational.”
Race is now largely a determining factor in jail sentencing and convictions. “According to the Bureau of Justice, one in three black men will go to jail sometime in their lifetime,” she said. And according to the Center for American Progress, African woman, when compared to white women who are similarly situated in terms of their offenses, are three times more likely to receive a harsh sentence than a white woman. “That shows what kind of a disconnect we have going on in the justice system,” Seabury said.
“We need to address these things, because it’s hurting our community in more ways than one,” she stated.
In addition, the she noted, even though African-Americans make up 14 percent of drug users, “we are arrested for almost 40 percent of drug offenses in this country.”
In her remarks, Sedalia-Pettis County Branch President Rhonda Chalfant talked about institutionalized discrimination.
“There are patterns of discrimination, whether they be based on race or ethnicity, gender or social class, that are so woven into the functioning of our society that we don’t recognize that they exist,” she said. It’s very real. It is very much a factor.”
Chalfant also emphasized the importance of voting.
“There is a perception in this country among many people that voting is not important, nor is it worthwhile”… (but) “every vote counts. Always,” Chalfant said. “One vote can matter a great deal.” “It may be your vote, it may be someone else’s vote. Every vote is important.”
Voters must choose those candidates “who understand the realities of institutionalized discrimination. And to know whether they do or not, we have to ask the difficult questions of the candidates, of our elected officials and of ourselves,” she said. “This does not always make one a popular person, but it is necessary.”
Bill Beck provided two musical numbers during his part of the program. Photos by Randy Kirby, Sedalia Weekly Observer.