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November 5, 2011

Freedom Fund Banquet affirms NAACP promise

ANDERSON, Ind. — Kim Keenan starts her workday by reading the phrase “a lawyer is a social engineer or a parasite on society.”

The simple grouping of words written on a wall the lawyer passes daily reminds her that lawsuits shouldn’t be filed to fill a courtroom.

“You’ve got to file a lawsuit when it’s right,” Keenan said. “You have to file a lawsuit when it’s strategic.”

Keenan’s promotion of social engineering earned her a spot as the youngest member of the NAACP’s general counsel and the second female top lawyer for the organization.

It also led her to the Madison County NAACP Freedom Fund Awards Banquet, where she addressed the attendees Saturday evening as the keynote guest speaker.

“We started over a hundred years ago,” she said. “Not just by black people, but by people affirming a promise.”

That promise lay in the importance and relevance of the NAACP to utilize both modern and historic models to create a truly equal society, Keenan said.

“As my mother would say, the more things change, the more they stay the same,” she said. “The focus of my speech is on our ability to tackle the problems of our day and make a difference.”

In her speech, Keenan, who’s been called a “Rebel in the Law” by the American Board Association and is a winner of the Wiley Branton Award given by the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, explained the importance of educating people about law and not allowing them to say “I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to use the law always as a sword,” Keenan said. “But sometimes a shield to save ourselves.”

Her speech touched on voting rights (including her plea for everyone to get identification and vote), criminal justice and economics.

“If they make it harder to vote because of an ID, then we need to get together and have an ID day,” Keenan said with great energy. “You know the difference between a black man that goes to prison and one that doesn’t is a college degree. Shouldn’t we spend money on that?”

The annual awards banquet is not only a large fundraiser for the local NAACP branch but a way to honor B. Harry Beckham.

“It’s called the Freedom Fund because we are raising funds to combat discrimination in the community, workplace, education system and right now in the economic system,” said James Burgess, Madison County NAACP president. “It’s one of the most important events in the community because it makes people aware of the history of B. H. Beckham.”

Beckham was a prominent Realtor, community leader and humanitarian. He was the first black real estate broker and first lifetime NAACP member in Anderson.

“People at that time feared for their safety and didn’t have memberships. There were black codes that stopped blacks from owning property, but B.H. Beckham was a Realtor,” Burgess said. “There are streets named after the people that died for the rights we have today. All people know is what they see now. They need to know how that was possible.”

The B. Harry Beckham Award was established to honor the accomplishments and dedication Beckham had and is given to a member of the community who shares similar attributes.

This year’s winner was Angela Streeter.

“It was a complete surprise,” Streeter said. “I just got out of the hospital — tonight — and my husband was making sure I came.”

To ensure her attendance, Streeter’s husband said she had to attend the banquet because their daughter was receiving recognition.

“It was an honor,” she said. “I love working for the NAACP and love working with people.”

Another surprised winner was Vanessa Duncan, who got the Presidential Award.

“I was truly shocked,” Duncan said. “I was so surprised and honored.”

Honorary Chairman Sally DeVoe received the Community Service Award.

“I know people think all the NAACP does is give awards,” Burgess said. “No, that’s not all we do. We’re an organization made up of volunteers out there to level the playing field. It’s not just a black thing. It’s for all people. We are the conscience for all people.”

Contact April Abernathy: 640-4861 or april.abernathy@heraldbulletin.com.

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