Local Branch celebrates community leaders tonight at annual gala
Published : Thursday, September 27, 2018 | 5:18 AM
As the NAACP’s Pasadena Branch prepares to honor those who have made unique contributions to the community at Thursday’s 33rd Ruby McKnight Williams Awards Dinner, organization presidents present and past are reflecting on the progress they’ve seen, and the work that’s still to come.
The celebration of unity is named in honor of a two-time NAACP Pasadena president and lifelong civil rights activist. Williams served the organization for 65 years until her death in 1999.
NAACP Pasadena President Delano Yarbrough, 2017-Present
The gathering itself is a symbol of the work the NAACP strives to accomplish, Yarbrough said.
“To me, it’s encouraging because I think what you’ll see in the people who will be in attendance [is] a diverse group, economically, socially, racially, ethnically, religiously, you name it,” he said. “And I think that reflects on what the mission of the NAACP is. It’s bringing people together.”
The times have changed in the decades gone by, but the fundamental goals of the NAACP Pasadena remain the same, he said.
“We still have basically the same mission. We are here to protect the civil rights of individuals,” Yarbrough said.
“There’s still an emphasis on police-community relations, particularly in the African-American community and specifically as it relates to black males. And so that’s been a situation historically through the years. I think it’s an outgrowth that still hangs on from slavery or the slave mentality that existed back in that period,” said Yarbrough.
History has shown that achievements in social justice are often met with “pushback,” he said. For example, following the end of slavery came the Jim Crow era.
The election and re-election of the first black U.S. President in Barack Obama was a pivotal moment, Yarbrough said.
“And so now you have a pushback by the election of President Trump. Things are getting better, but not a lot has changed. The needs for the NAACP is still there.”
Former NAACP Pasadena President Gary Moody, 2013-2017
Moody said he had the honor of seeing McKnight Williams in action.
“As a second-generation Pasadenan, I was there when she was president back in ‘69, when they had the insurrection at Pasadena High School and 13 of the high school students, including my sister, were expelled from school behind racial relations,” he said.
“I’ve been a part of that youth movement,” Moody said. “[McKnight Williams] called upon all of us to come together with them. [There was] conversation about what was going on in regards to the new and upcoming Black Power movement, which basically started around 1969.”
Moody said young people remain vital to the cause of equality, and there is still much work to be done.
“Really, really, really pay attention to our young people, because they feel really disconnected,” he said.
He said he struggled against similar issues during his tenure as chapter president.
“At this point right now, there seems to be a renewed disconnection,” he said. “We need to embrace our young folks.”
It’s also a critical time to mobilize voters, Moody added.
“I think one of the most important things… all the way up to November is getting out the vote and registering people to vote. I hope people join in with them on that situation as much possible.”
Former NAACP Pasadena President Joe Brown, 2001-2013
Brown said the Ruby McKnight Williams Award Dinner is special night.
“It represents a community coming together, at least for three hours. And I’m talking about the whole community, so that people can sit down and have social engagement — a social function where there is no arguing, no lawsuits and all those other things,” he said. “That’s what it meant to me.”
“If people can’t come and break bread together, we really do have a problem across the socioeconomic spectrum,” Brown said.
In facing modern-day challenges, Brown said he fears the organization has strayed too far from its roots.
“The vision is civic engagement, collaboration and social justice. When you miss those three points, you miss everything,” he said.
It’s also important to keep in mind that the NAACP has always been dedicated to social justice in all forms, according to Brown.
“The NAACP is not a black organization,” he said. “[It’s the] National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, not just black people.”
“Social justice deals with some of the immigration issues, it deals with police misconduct, it deals with discrimination in housing. It’s a broad mission,” Brown said.
Working alongside other groups is essential, he said. “You must be able to collaborate. I didn’t say agree. I said collaborate.”
Pasadena Vice Mayor and Former NAACP Pasadena President John Kennedy, 1987-1990
Kennedy was 25 years old when he became the youngest president of the Pasadena branch. He said McKnight Williams herself encouraged him to run.
“The local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is still highly relevant in pressing the case for civil and human rights in Pasadena,” he said. “And the leadership of that organization is certainly focused on the issues of human rights and civil rights.”
Much has been accomplished since the days of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow laws, he said. But ignorance lives on, and continues to shape public policy.
“We still have to give fair housing. We still have to give access to education,” Kennedy said. “So yes, there’s been progress, but there’s also been a retrenchment, because young African-American males are dropping out of middle school and high school at record numbers.”
“Racism is still alive and well in America. But young people are talking about it in a serious way, both locally and nationally,” he said.
“And so I see glimmers of hope all around California in Pasadena and in the nation that we are better than our racist past. We are better than excluding brown and black children both swimming in the Brookside, which is now the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center,” he said.
Kennedy added that the Pasadena NAACP is undergoing diversification.
“Justice is for everyone, and the benefits of community and citizenship and living in the United States is for everyone, and the NAACP is there to ensure that that is just not a creed that is a reality,” he said.
The NAACP Pasadena Branch 33rd Ruby McKnight Williams Awards Dinner will start Thursday, September 27, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. For more information on how to attend, call (626) 793-1293.