If it’s September, that means members of the Sampson County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) are busy finalizing plans for their 16th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet, with the banquet set for Oct. 1 at 6 p.m. at the Sampson County Agri-Exposition Center, located at 414 Warsaw Road, Clinton.
With less than a month to go, the event organizers would like to invite the public to join them in celebrating the 107th anniversary of the National NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, founded in 1909. Since its inception, the NAACP has remained on the front line for change, leading the assault against bigotry and injustice. And today, at 107 years old, the NAACP remains one of the key players in advancing democracy through its struggle for equality and justice for all in the U.S. and shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
The 2016 Freedom Fund Banquet, with the theme, “Ensuring Justice Through Educating Our Youth,” will feature as the keynote speaker The Honorable Paul A. Hardison, in an encore appearance. According to banquet chair Jo Ann Howard, “Judge Hardison’s captivating message last year left such an outstanding impression on the youth as well as the adults, and it was a unanimous decision to ask him back again this year. She further stated, “Our theme this year resonates well with the life experiences and work of Judge Hardison. It is timely given the events occurring in our community, our country, and the world around us.”
Hardison, a native of Sneads Ferry, joined the U.S. Army after graduating high school in 1970, being honorably discharged in 1975. After receiving his undergraduate degree, he obtained his law degree from North Carolina Central University. In 1984, he became a practicing attorney as a partner in the Law Firm of Moore, Wright and Hardison. And from 1986-1990, he maintained a private practice, while serving as vice-chairman of the Onslow County Board of Education.
It was in 1990 that Hardison was first elected a District Court Judge in the Fourth Judicial District, a position he still maintains today. But on Jan. 2, 2015, Hardison made history, becoming the first African-American Chief District Court Judge of the Fourth Judicial District, presiding in Onslow, Jones, Duplin, and Sampson counties.
While commenting on the historic swearing in ceremony in Jacksonville, Hardison said, “I am excited. I’m humbled by this opportunity and it’s good to see the people showing up for support.”
Adding to his many accolades and achievements, Hardison was honored at last year’s Sampson County Branch of the Freedom Fund Banquet as the 2015 Community Service Award recipient on the occasion of his 25th year tenure as a District Court Judge of the Fourth Judicial District.
Hoping that the 2016 banquet will be a huge success, the organizers of the event are expecting to receive support from every sector of the community life, including governmental, religious, and business groups. Banquet chair Jo Ann Howard added, “We are encouraging churches, organizations, local businesses, political leaders and individuals to purchase tables that seat 10. This will allow groups and individuals to sit together at the event.”
According to the Freedom Fund Banquet organizers, “this event will once again bring together a cross-section of people, representing many different ideas and viewpoints, helping to unite our community in our continued struggle for equality and justice for all in Sampson County.” In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Every step toward the goal of justice requires the passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
In the meantime, if anyone has any concerns or questions about renewing your membership or to become a new member of the Sampson County Branch of the NAACP, Unit #5446, please contact NAACP President Lee Byam at (910)990-0873. Also, you can purchase tickets at $25 each from any member of the banquet committee or any member of the branch. The deadline to purchase tickets is Sept. 16.
For more information about the mission and vision of the NAACP, the local branch invites you to attend the general membership meetings every fourth Monday at 6 p.m. at First Baptist, 900 College St., Clinton.