Biden to keynote Detroit NAACP's Freedom Dinner

By David Shepardson and Holly Fournier
The Detroit News

Detroit — Vice President Joe Biden will keynote the Detroit NAACP's 60th annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner on May 3 — his 16th trip to the state since taking office.

The Detroit News learned of his planned trip on Tuesday and a spokeswoman for the Detroit NAACP, LaToya Henry, confirmed that he would speak. Biden' office confirmed the trip in an email to Michigan lawmakers.

Biden has been making regular trips to Detroit over the last year, including three trips last year and has touted the city's turnaround after bankruptcy. He was last in Detroit on Labor Day, taking part for the second time in three years in the annual holiday that marks the role of workers in the Motor City.

Earlier Tuesday, the announcement was delayed when branch president the Rev. Wendell Anthony, who arrived about 30 minutes late to a press conference originally scheduled to announce the speaker, said he took a last-minute call requesting his group hold off on the announcement.

Anthony officially announced Biden as the speaker during a second news conference Tuesday afternoon.

"As many may recall, our first speaker was the Honorable Justice Thurgood Marshall," Anthony said. "It is historically inspiring that 60 years later a tradition of excellence and outstanding achievement in the cause of freedom and justice will be continued by our vice president."

Flanked by Detroit NAACP board members and sponsors, Anthony early Tuesday announced four awardees to be honored at the 60th annual event to be held at 5 p.m. May 3 at Cobo Center.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., D-Detroit, will receive the James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award for his work in the House, attention to Haitian rights, and assistance given to Rosa Parks in Detroit, Anthony said.

"He's just been a champion on so many fronts," he said.

Other awardees include attorney Benjamin Crump receiving the Ida B. Wells Freedom and Justice Award, ACLU Michigan executive director Kary Moss receiving the Mary Church Terrell Freedom and Justice Award, and activist Jessica Care Moore receiving the Great Expectations Award.

"We try to measure what (awardees) do against who we are," Anthony said of the process of selecting winners. "All of them are concerned with the 'least of these.' They are people who go where other people don't go."

Anthony was joined Tuesday by chapter board members and dinner sponsors, including a representative for General Motors CEO Mary Barra, who is serving as senior corporate chair of the dinner.

The theme of this year's dinner is Celebrating Freedom: Measured by Practice, Treasured by Sacrifice. The dinner will feature a special tribute to Selma, Alabama, Anthony said.

Leading up to the event, a "Freedom Weekend 2015" sponsored by the Freedom Institute will feature events including a jobs fair April 30, an economic development summit May 1 and a 5k Walk-Bike-Run event May 2.

"This is a very critical time in the history of civil rights," Anthony said of the need for the events. "Fifty years since Selma and the signing of the Voting Rights Act, we still have some other bridges to cross."

The dinner is the largest fundraiser for the chapter and brings in around 10,000 people each year. Charles Ogletree, a Harvard Law School professor who taught both Barack and Michelle Obama, delivered the keynote at last year's dinner.

Other speakers have included U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Attorney General Eric Holder, former President Bill Clinton, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.

Staff Writer Candice Williams contributed.