by Kevin Epps
A new generation of Black leaders, locally and nationally, took center stage when the San Francisco NAACP held its 10th annual Freedom Fund Gala at the Hyatt Regency on the Embarcadero on the first of December. Still ringing in the ears of the hundreds in attendance are the poetic words of Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglas Haynes III, the new dynamic leader of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the chosen successor to its founder, the renowned Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Mayor London Breed graced the reception from 6 to 7 p.m., the main program following at 7. She set the tone with her “Where Fillmoe at” chants, ending with, “I’m looking for some real transformative change with this new generation of leadership.”
The Embarcadero provided a fitting backdrop for an event that brought together over 700 attendees, a diverse community united by a shared commitment to uplift and fight for a better future. Rev. Amos C. Brown, long time president of the SF NAACP and pastor of Third Baptist Church, welcomed the crowd, noting it was the largest assembly of predominantly Black people in San Francisco in recent memory.
Rev. Dr. Jonathan Butler, a young, baby-faced brother, now co-chair, beamed with pride as he sat looking out into the sea of people. “This is one of the largest crowds of Black people I have seen in the City in a long time,” said 20-something-year-old attendee Prince.
Rev. Haynes, the keynote speaker, resonated with the crowd, delivering a captivating message with a rhythm reminiscent of rap lyrics, injecting youthful energy into the gala.
The event not only celebrated a new generation but also honored eight local individuals who have been making outstanding contributions to the cause of full democracy and equal opportunities for all, from the grassroots up.
Rick Callendar, president of the California-Hawaii NAACP State Conferences, shared opening remarks. Then the mic was passed to the distinguished honorees, including Dr. Sheryl Davis, EdD, who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Lateefah Simon, a member of the BART Board of Directors, currently running for Congress, was honored with the Community Service Award. Geoffrea Morris, Esq., who was recognized with the Civil Rights Activist Award, drew cheers when she shouted, “Hunters Point in the house!” A loud cheer erupted, underscoring the strong community bonds being celebrated.
Rudy Corpuz Jr.‘s empowering slogan, “It takes the hood to save the hood,” resonated in the air as he delivered his acceptance speech: “To everybody that has done this work before I have, all of the elders, I take my hat off and applaud you all. Because if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be doing this work, so thank you; we stand on your shoulders.” Corpuz, executive director of United Playaz, was recognized with the Public Service Award.
Rev. Dr. Joseph Bryant Jr., senior pastor of Calvary Hill Community Church in Bayview, was presented with the Trailblazer Award.
The spotlight also shined bright on youth honorees, including Rachel Alcazar of Carlmont High School, president of the San Francisco NAACP Youth Council. Samantha Wint of Balboa High School and Joshua Peterson of Archbishop Riordan High School, vice president of the San Francisco NAACP Youth Council, were honored as well.
The event’s theme, “Thriving Together,” echoed throughout, underscoring its immense significance in a time of immense challenges. The pursuit of a more inclusive and progressive society is paramount, especially in a City like San Francisco that has failed to live up to its promise.
The gala not only celebrated the accomplishments of the past year but also acknowledged the challenges and difficulties ahead, but with renewed commitment to the principles of democracy and opportunity in San Francisco, starting with the Black community.
A unique collaboration unfolded as the NAACP and the Rainbow PUSH Coalition joined forces, emphasizing the shared vision for a better future. The evening concluded with a renewed commitment to eradicate barriers and foster a society where everyone can flourish.
Rev. Haynes’ keynote address resonated with the crowd, delivering a captivating message with a rhythm reminiscent of rap lyrics, injecting youthful energy into the gala. “Once the door is open, don’t just go in by yourself. Tell everybody else to come in with you, and when we do that, we can thrive together.” He paused and then said, “Let me give you Kendrick Lamar: ‘All my life I had to fight, but if God got us, we gon be alright.’”
Kevin Epps is a Dad, award-winning filmmaker, community activist, author, executive editor of the SF Bay View “National Black Newspaper” and chairman of the board for the SF Bay View Foundation. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on ig: kevinepps1.