More than 400 people gathered at the Pine Bluff Convention Center to honor the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. On Friday, the Pine Bluff Branch hosted their 28th Annual Dove Freedom Fund Banquet.

“It just touches my heart to see a turnout like this,” said Pine Bluff Branch NAACP president Wanda V. Neal of the 436 guests in attendance. “I’m overjoyed as you can see.”

Founded in 1909, the organization’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 NAACP’s vision has been to “ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.”

“I think it keeps the dream alive,” said Pine Bluff mayor Shirley Washington of the NAACP. “It keeps people thinking big. I always like to say [it keeps people] working hard and never ever giving up.”

Mayor George McGill, of Fort Smith, delivered the keynote speech. He was the first African-American to run for mayor and a former democratic member of the Arkansas House of Representatives for district 78 from 2013 to 2019. With a theme of “When We Fight Together, We Win,” McGill urged those in attendance to recruit youth to be a part of the “fight.”

“If we don’t get our youth involved, our organizations die,” said McGill. “We thirst for new knowledge if we don’t get them involved. Our young people have so much to offer and we should engage them to find out what they want [and] what they want their city to look like?”

Reflecting back to his days as youngster, McGill discussed the impact the local NAACP chapter had in not only his life, but also the community he lived in.

“The NAACP has been the backbone of my community ever since I have been around,” he said. “The NAACP leaders were always accessible and as a young man I always wanted to be with Dr. H.P. McDonald or my uncle Rev. Norman McGill. They were strong NAACP members and we gravitated to those leaders, because they made themselves accessible to all of us and not only to the people who needed help, but also to the young people.”

In the past, the Pine Bluff Branch of the NAACP has pushed to recruit more people to join the organization due to low membership numbers. But, city leaders are hopeful for the prospects of new members especially those in high school and college.

“I love the way that Ms. Neal and her team have brought life to this organization and keeps it thriving and moving in the City of Pine Bluff,” said Washington. “One of the ways that I have found that has brought the youth into this organization the most is the college chapter. We have a group working with high school students as well and so they start at 13 recruiting those kids, letting them fill leadership roles, learning parliamentarian procedures and then letting them know what’s it’s like to be in those leadership roles that they will fill one day. So, I think it gives them ambition and spurs that dream to keep them dreaming big.”