By Chevon T. Baccus APR
Executive Editor 

LW NAACP Holds Annual Freedom Fund Banquet

State Sen. Gibson Issues Voting Challenge


Last updated 6/19/2019 at 7:11pm

Chevon Baccus

L to R NAACP Branch President Wanda Howard and Vice President Leroy Smith Sr. with U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, School Board Member Sara Fortney, Lake Wales Mayor Eugene Fultz and Florida Sen. Audrey Gibson

Florida Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson fired up members of the Lake Wales NAACP Saturday June 15 with a rousing call to be bold, to vote and to make sure others vote. The Jacksonville Democrat was keynote speaker for Branch 5109's 46th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet.

Gibson has been in the Florida Legislature since 2002, the first eight years as a Representative, and the last eight as a Senator. Since it was Father's Day weekend, Gibson brought her dad, Ernest Gibson, to the banquet.

Gibson told the audience it is each person's responsibility not only to vote, but to make sure all your family members and friends vote. She said there is too much hate in our country, including "hate spewing from the White House." The banquet theme was "Defeat Hate. Vote. Our Lives Depend on it."

"We have to talk about voting like our lives depend on it. Of course our lives depend on it. We have to understand and continue to remember that our life's quality and quantity of our lives is dependent upon who is making the decisions," Gibson said. "Who is running things controls everything."

NAACP Branch President Wanda Howard pointed out that Gibson is one of her sorority sisters in Delta Sigma Theta. Howard recognized several others at the event who also are Deltas.

Setting the tone for the event, the audience sang "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing," one of the most cherished songs of the African American civil rights movement and often referred to as the Black National Anthem.

Young people participating in the program included Elisha Burkes of the Lake Wales NAACP Youth Council giving the welcome; A'mya Roberts, an eighth grader at Bok Academy and member of Allen Temple AME Church, who gave an oration; and DonTavis Sanders, a former ACT-SO participant and graduate of the Duke University School of Divinity, who sang a solo.

NAACP Board member Nicara Daniels presented Freedom Fund Awards: the Community Leader Award to Eddye Jean Rivers, and Servant Leader Award to Bishop Roscoe Williams III.

Public officials in attendance joined together for a photo. In addition to Gibson, they included U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, Lake Wales Mayor Eugene Fultz and Polk County School Board Member Sarah Fortney.

The annual Freedom Fund Banquet is a fundraiser for the local branch and a membership builder. With each banquet ticket comes a one-year membership in the NAACP.

National NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson in a letter published in the event program challenged members to continue serving as activists and pioneers of the cause.

"We are reminded daily that civic engagement is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal. Our vote is our currency – in every election," Johnson wrote. "If we do not vote, we'll never be able to make substantial strides in the issues that matter most to our communities."

Johnson said the next five years will shape the political climate for years to come. He expressed concerns that the upcoming 2020 Census "will substantially undercount African Americans and other people of color, causing inequalities in political representation and deficiencies in federal funding."

Chevon Baccus

Keynote Speaker Florida Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson

About 100 people attended the banquet, which also received substantial support from the following: Platinum Sponsor and program printing sponsor, Tonya Stewart Law, PA; Gold Sponsor Polk State College; Silver Sponsor Lake Wales Medical Center; Bronze Sponsor Weikert Ford; Community Partners, the City of Lake Wales and Lake Wales Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram; Table Sponsors Duke Energy, GST: The Family Church, and Tonya Stewart Law; Full page ad sponsors: Allen Temple AME Church, AICC – Advanced Interventional Cardiology Consultants, First Institutional Missionary Baptist Church, Lake Wales Police Department, Polk County Sheriff's Office and Sunshine Center Coin Laundry; Half page sponsors: GST: The Family Church, Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce and EDC, Lake Wales Care Center, Polk County Board of County Commissioners, Polk Supervisor of Elections, and Sizzling Grill Steak and Seafood; Quarter Page ad sponsors: ACT-SO program of NAACP Branch 5109, Badcock Home Furniture and More, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Lake Wales Area Democratic Club, and Native Imagery; Business Card ad sponsors: State Rep. Sam Killebrew and Patton Tire Inc.

For more information, email [email protected] or call Wanda Howard, Branch President at (863) 604-9303 or via email at [email protected].

Servant Leader Award presented to Bishop Roscoe Williams III - see story at

Community Leader Award presented to Eddye Jean Rivers - see story at


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