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Detroit — Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris will be this year’s keynote speaker at the 64th annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner, the Detroit branch of the NAACP announced Tuesday.

The theme for this year’s dinner is “Freedom Knows Only One Direction, Forward” and will be held May 5 at the Cobo Center.

NAACP President the Rev. Wendell Anthony said Harris exemplifies the theme as a fighter for justice and equality and a scholar.

"It is an accomplishment to have her come," Anthony said. "We are pleased she's coming. It's no secret she is one of several candidates running for president, but we don't endorse candidates. She exemplifies a lot of what we're hoping to cover this year with our theme and convention."

Harris, a Californian who was a deputy district attorney and chief of the Community and Neighborhood Division as a city attorney, led the way on the "Back on Track" program for non-violent, first-time drug offenders. She was elected as a statewide attorney general in 2010. She is the third female U.S. senator from California and is the first woman to serve in the Senate of Jamaican and Indian ancestry.

Anthony also announced the lineup of awardees this year including:

  • The Rev. Charles Adams, the senior pastor of Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, will receive the James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Five-time Grammy Award-nominee Aliaune Damala Badara Akon Thiam, better known as "Akon," will receive the W.E.B DuBois Freedom & Justice Award for moving beyond entertainment with his Lighting Africa Project.
  • Darryl Woody Sr., who led NAACP-organized branches at the Ryan and Mound Correctional facilities while incarcerated for 29 years, will be presented the Great Expectation Award for his continuous work reclaiming young men.
  • Amanda Alexander, executive director of the Detroit Justice Center, will receive the Great Expectation Award. Challenger of "stop-and-frisk," she's also founded the Prison & Family Justice Project.

"To call this a dinner would be demeaning," Anthony said. "This event belongs to the city of Detroit. We should take pride in something no other city produces. This is an iconic event in the city of Detroit that we have done no matter what economic situation we are in. We should encourage people to attend like the auto show, nothing like it anywhere else but the D."

The Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner was launched in April 1956 beginning with former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall as the first keynote speaker. Over the years, it has become the largest sit-down dinners, serving approximately 10,000 guests.

The event will also celebrate the centennial anniversary of the song "Lift Every Voice and Sing," performed in 1919 by 500 school children in Jacksonville, Florida, at the segregated Stanton School, where James Weldon Johnson served as principal.

"We will commemorate and celebrate this song of freedom with hundreds of young people from the city of Detroit and around this region in a special musical tribute," Anthony said. "We are working with students from high schools, in and outside of Detroit, for this historic occasion."

The NAACP will also bring its 110th convention to Detroit this summer, which will include sessions addressing hot-button topics such as police brutality, voter suppression and mental health in the black community.

The July 20-24 convention is expected to draw elected officials, entertainers, authors, athletes and others for workshops and events such as a Freedom Fund Banquet, a health pavilion, retail expo, diversity career fair and the 41st NAACP Academic, Cultural, Technical and Scientific Olympics competition.

The convention is expected to bring in at least $11 million to southeast Michigan, organizers estimate.

Past keynote speakers included former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2017 and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker in 2018.

srahal@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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