The Memphis Branch of the NAACP's Freedom Fund Gala drew a crowd of supporters to the Grand Ball Room of the Memphis Cook Convention Center (March 20) for an annual event that brings out the best in Memphis.
Each year a keynote speaker tops off the evening with a poignant message that undergirds the message and mission of the NAACP. For the 37th gala, however, the keynote speaker graced the stage with poise, enthusiasm and zeal, and urged the audience to consider mentoring African-American children.
"We're only asking for an hour a week of your time. We're not asking you to become parents. We just need a little of your time," said Susan L. Taylor, a celebrated magazine columnist who rose through the ranks as a fashion and beauty editor, editorial director, and finally the editor in chief emeritus of Essence magazine.
Taylor took aim at the deplorable conditions in African-American communities across the country and singled out African-American males as an endangered species worth saving. These communities, she pointed out, have been devoid of educational opportunities and ravaged by poverty and drugs.
"We need to invest in education," she said.
Taylor founded "Essence Cares" in 2006, which morphed into the "National Cares Mentoring Movement." The mission is two-fold: to increase high school graduation rates and create safe "top-tier schools in every underserved community in this nation."
She said mentors are recruited, connected and then deployed wherever they are needed.
"The village is on fire and children are screaming for support (available resources)," she said. "They represent the healing water our children need to survive this crisis moment."
Taylor's remarks underscored the work already in progress at the NAACP and highlighted in its own goals and mission. The Rev. Keith Norman, senior pastor of First Baptist Church-Broad, who was elected in October of 2012 as the organization's new branch president, laid out a strategic plan for going forward.
He calls it the "5 Game Changers for the 21st Century": 1) renewing a focus on voter education and maintaining voting rights; 2) making sure that all children have access to a free, high quality public education; 3) leveling the field for affordable health care and access for all; 4) building systems of wealth and strengthening economic sustainability for all; and 5) ensuring public safety and criminal justice.
The 5 Game Changers coincide in many ways with Taylor's goal to end violence in the African-American community, rid the community of blight, and stop the express train to juvenile facilities and penal systems that "warehouse" African-American males.
Madeleine C. Taylor, the executive director of the Memphis branch, said Taylor's remarks were on-point and that her work in the community is desperately needed in this day and time to help lift the African-American community out of economic despair and low educational attainment.
"We have been vigilant in our pursuit of a thorough education for African-American children by sponsoring the ACT-SO (Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological, Scientific Olympics) competition for high school students," said Taylor. "Many of them have excelled in Science, Humanities, Performing Arts, Visual Arts and Entrepreneurship."
Fighting for economic parity, justice and freedom is still vital to the NAACP's mission, Taylor added.