Infrastructure, Involvement, Public Education pushed at NAACP Banquet

The glamorous annual affair, this year at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Austin, tends to attract local and state leaders.

The prevailing themes of Saturday evening’s 2016 DeWitty/Overton Freedom Fund Banquet for the NAACP Austin chapter included improving infrastructure in Austin’s disadvantaged communities to spur economic empowerment and focusing on strengthening the educational experience for Austin’s children of color.

Last night’s banquet welcomed the likes of Sen. Kirk Watson, Mayor Steve Adler, former City Council Member Sheryl Cole, several current city council members and Travis County Commissioners Court Judge Sarah Eckhardt, commissioners, and State of Texas NAACP President Gary Bledsoe.

Next year, we will have a brand new Austin city manager, and a new Austin police chief.

Over dinner, Austin NAACP President Nelson Linder spoke of the correlation between unsound infrastructure and communities plagued by unemployment, ineffective schools, and higher crime rates.

Nelson urged city leaders to address neglected populations east of I-35 that have “suffered from the impact of systemic and structural racism” that he says has led to substandard communities.

Linder also addressed the epidemic of police-involved shootings of African American citizens across the nation and here in Austin, delivering a rousing call for attendees to always remember these incidents and to rise up against police misconduct and brutality. Now, Linder said, is an ideal time for Austin’s residents of color to participate in the local process since, “next year, we will have a brand new Austin city manager, and a new Austin police chief.”

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HTU President Dr. Pierce Burnette

Keynote speaker, Huston-Tillotson University president Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, received a standing ovation after her speech that focused on ensuring children of color in Austin are exposed to the same opportunities as children in other areas of the city.

Through each of your spheres of influence, you are responsible for turning this ship around.

“The achievement gap has nothing to do with intellect or capability,” said Dr. Burnette, “but exposure and exposure.” She urged Austin residents to be informed about what happens at every level of government in order to affect positive change in the lives of people of color. Above all, she stressed, registered voters should be exercising their right to make their voices heard during elections.

“We all have excuses for why we can’t be involved and engaged,” said Dr. Burnette. “The problem is not that we don’t know how to improve the lives and public education of our children. The problem is we’re just not doing it. Through each of your spheres of influence, you are responsible for turning this ship around. We have to have the will. We have to do the heavy lifting. For many of us, the outcome of this recent (presidential) election is a pain point for our country. What we must refuse to do is to be angry. Instead, we must turn our energy into becoming game changers, and in investing in our youth.”

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