Love conquers all.
That was the message to guests during the Pine Bluff Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's 26th Annual Dove Freedom Fund Banquet. Hundreds gathered at the Pine Bluff Convention Center on Friday to not only celebrate the organization's history, but also its future.
"In 1909, people did not see this day coming," said Pine Bluff Branch of the NAACP president Ivan Whitfield, who is also the Pine Bluff Police Department police chief. "They did not see the privilege that we have as a city, a state or a county and that we'd be able to get together in this magnitude."
In acknowledging historical firsts for Pine Bluff, Jefferson County and the state of Arkansas, Whitfield recognized Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington and Jefferson County Judge Henry "Hank" Wilkins IV.
"The first African American female mayor of the City of Pine Bluff ... in 1909 was unheard of," Whitfield said. "In 1909, nobody would've predicted that we would have an African American mayor and county judge in Jefferson County, Arkansas."
This year's theme of "Steadfast and Immovable" charged attendees to remember the role of the NAACP's past as it relates to helping them build a better future.
"It's important for us to synchronize our past with our present and our future," Washington said. "It's important for us to share with the young people if we are going to make that change in our community that all of our community craves."
After food and fellowship, keynote speaker Karen Freeman-Wilson, the first female to serve the city of Gary, Indiana, and the first African American female mayor in Indiana, spoke about the importance of loving others to impact change.
"If more of our actions today were rooted and grounded in the love that led to the founding of this organization, we'd be a better nation today," Freeman-Wilson said. "You can't love a person, I mean really, really love a person and shoot them down like a dog in the street, and you can't love a person and treat them like they are less than human because of the color of their skin, their religion and their gender. Love may not reduce the national debt, but real love for people should cause our national leadership to think twice before snatching healthcare from the reach of millions."
Founded in 1909, the NAACP's mission is to "ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination," according to its website.
For over 100 years, the organization's vision has been to "ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race."
That same history is what Freeman-Wilson urged those in the crowd to remember as a basis for loving, especially in a time where racial tensions are high in America.
"They were all joined on their concern about racism and not just the impact it had on those who were victims of racists acts, but also those who were perpetrators of racism," Freeman-Wilson said of the NAACP founders. "...Underlying everyone one of their selfless acts was love. Love for our people, because they knew we deserved better; love for the perpetrators of hatred and racism, because they know they could do better, and love for human kind because they wanted us all to be better."