Starting off the New Year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Pine Bluff Branch hosted their annual Emancipation Proclamation and Membership Kick-off. Members and non-members gathered at Mt. Nebo Missionary Baptist Church on Monday for the event, which is geared towards recruiting more participants.

“I’m looking for more men to join and be active,” said NAACP Pine Bluff Branch President Ivan Whitfield, who is also the Pine Bluff Police Department police chief. “… Not just join and go home, but I want you to join and participate.”

The organization was founded in 1909 with a mission to “ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination,” according to its website. The NAACP’s vision has been to “ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race” for over 100 years.

“It was not easy getting to where we’ve gotten,” said NAACP Pine Bluff Branch Membership Chair Yvonne Humphrey. “Look at our mayor. Look at our chief of police. But, we have overcome.”

Attendees listened intently as guest speaker Reverend Clarke Thomas, pastor of New Salem Missionary Baptist Church, talked about how those in leadership positions have made mistakes.

“America, I respect your courage,” he said. “But, I question your judgment. They are doing things they think they can get away with. People in power have egregiously misunderstood God’s expectations, his desires for the people that have power and how they should treat folks who don’t have power.”

He went onto to say that God was keeping record of what’s going on in the world.

“They have come to the assumption that they have the authority to implement justice,” he said. “But, they have changed justice to injustice. They are abusing the position God has placed them in.”

With a theme of “Steadfast and Immovable,” Thomas insisted that those in the audience continue to push forward with the goals of the NAACP until they see change in and around their communities.

“Until God makes a way, we must keep believing he will make a way somehow,” Thomas said. “We must keep believing that trouble (doesn’t) last always, we must keep believing prayer still works, we must keep believing that He (has) the world in his hands. We (have) to keep fighting and not give up, because God is still on our side.”

Reflecting back to the day of her inauguration a year ago on Jan. 1, 2017, Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington took to the podium to celebrate and thank the NAACP for its continued support.

“And on that day, I didn’t know if I could make it,” Washington said tearfully. “But, with your faith in me, your encouragement, and most of all with the help of the almighty God, we made it through year one.”

Washington emphatically stated that she didn’t expect to win and that she hoped other candidates would run, naming Ted Davis, Alderwoman Thelma Walker and Alderman Steven Mays as potential candidates. However, she emphasized that she confidently followed what God told her to do, which was run for mayor of Pine Bluff.

“It hasn’t been perfect (and) we haven’t accomplished all that we wanted to, but we praise God that it’s been a good year,” Washington said, wiping away tears.

Humphrey encouraged not only adults but also asked the elders to get youth involved with the NAACP. She urged that, along the way, members of the community had fallen short on teaching teens about the history of the NAACP.

“The things we have gone through and we have failed to teach our young people what the NAACP is really all about,” she said. “We failed to teach them that there is a need for it.”

Humphrey also said that if finances were hindrances for people to join the organization, help would be made available to those in need.

“Membership in the NAACP is the bloodline of this organization,” she said. “We need you to join. We need you to re-join.”