SOMERSET, NJ—The New Brunswick branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) held their 41st annual Freedom Fund Luncheon on November 1, entitled "All In For Justice and Equality: Yesterday and Today – Continuing the Struggle".
The event took place at the First Baptist Church at 771 Somerset Street, just days before the general election.
Notable appearances included Congressman Frank Pallone and New Jersey Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin. Internationally-known educational consultant and Jersey City resident Baruti Kafele was the Keynote Speaker.
Sarah Collins Rudolph, the honored guest, tours the world to revisit the day she became the "fifth little girl" from the 16th Street Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963.
"That day will always be in my mind," Collins Rudolph told the crowd of about 200 guests and members of the NAACP.
On Friday, September 15, 1963, Ms. Collins Rudolph, who was 12 at the time, remembers walking to a local church with her older sisters Addie Mae Collins, 14, and Janie Collins, 16.
"We were laughing all the way to the church, throwing a purse up in the air and catching it."
But a bomb was planted inside the chuch by four members of the American terrorist organization Ku Klux Klan (KKK): Bobby Frank Cherry, Thomas Blanton, Herman Frank Cash, and Robert Chambliss.
Decades passed before all men were sentenced to prison. Blanton, the only one of the four bombers still alive, was not sentenced until 2002.
Sarah Collins Rudolph was the sole survivor, pulled out of the wreckage by a church members, Samuel Rutledge who was upstais, among other church members including Janie Collins.
"They planted the bomb downstairs, under the steps," says Ms. Collins Rudolph in a phone interview.
"Cars were all mangled up," says Collins Rudolph. Her husband, George Rudolph, says it is a miracle Collins Rudolph survived the bombing.
"God put her on this Earth to do something," Mr. Rudolph says in an interview. The two met in high school and married on November 10, 2000.
And to this day, the Rudolph's still demand justice for her sister's death from the City and the County of Birmingham.
"Years later, we wanted to move the remains of my sister Addie Mae to a masoleum, because the cemetary she was in wasn't kept."
But when they had the area underneath the grave stone marked "Addie Mae Collins" excavated, they found a body with dentures in the skull, not that of 14-year old Addie Mae Collins.
"She wasn't in the grave," said Ms. Collins Rudolph. "We're still trying to locate the body. It's been 51 years and the city won't respond."
New Brunswick NAACP President Bruce Morgan presented Sarah Collins Rudolph with the Harriet Tubman Spirit of Courage Award. Morgan, and his wife Deborah, first met Sarah Collins Rudolph and her husband at a People's Organization for Progress event about a year ago.
"When we first spoke, it was as if we knew each other for a long time," recalls Morgan who also said the two couples kept in touch at least once a week on Facebook. "I love social media!"
New Brunswick activist Tormel Pittman was also honored with the Steven Bantu Biko Spirit of the Community Award.
"If you research Steven Biko, you will see Tormel's actions often reflect Biko's,"said Morgan in an interview.
"He often speaks for those many believe are on "the margins," particularly the underclass. This population is often overlooked in the planning stage when decisions are made for the community for a myriad of reasons."
"[The NAACP has] taken note of [Pittman's] growth and maturity when dealing with the "establishment" and his desire to continue to grow."
Pittman told the crowd, "I wanna first say to the people of New Brunswick… Remsen Avenue, I can't do any of this without you. Robeson Village, I can't do any of this without you," going on to list a number of organizations and neighborhoods he credited in his acceptance speech.
"Newell Apartments, Memorial Parkway, Parkside, Grove, Ville, I can't do any of this without you. To the Williams family, all of my blood relatives, I can't do any of this without you. To the Pittman family, I can't do any of this without you. To the Latino Leadership Alliance, I can't do any of this without you. To the New Black Panther Pary, I can't do any of this without you. To the People's Organization for progress, I can't do any of this without you. To the NAACP, I can't do any of this without you."
Other honorees included Kenneth Armwood, a Piscataway politician who recently joined the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. Reverand Eric Dobson of Faire Share Housing, and Juanita Collier of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.
Stephen K. Jones, President and CEO of Robert Wood Johnson (RWJ) University Hospital and Health System was given the Reginald F. Lewis Corporate Diversity Award. Ryan Patrick Parker, Chief Diversity Officer at RWJ, accepted the award on Mr. Jones' behalf.
Baruti Kafele addressed issues pertaining to the current state of the educational system. One of the problems, Kafele told New Brunswick Today, is the "language we use to identify problems" in schools.
Kafele also travels the world and does a lot of work with staff attitudes, teacher attitudes, and empowering black males.
"I would say for sure we were succesful," Morgan told New Brunswick Today after the event. "A large portion of funds raised go toward the scholarships for our kids."
The NAACP has its own scholarship program, known as ACT-SO, which stands for Afro-Academic Cultural Technological and Scientific Olympics.
The scholarship program is "designed to recruit, stimulate, and encourage high academic and cultural achievment among African-American high school students."
Michelle Redd, Co-Chair of the New Brunswick Area ACT-SO, announced the scholarship winners to three girls, Samaiya Sanders, Natasha Kalley, and Chental Bembry.
Kalley graduated from New Brunswick High School and attends Rutgers University and plans on studying international business, marketing and finance.
Bembry is a graduate of South Brunswick High School and is a first-year Broadcast Journalism major with a minor in Leadership Studies.
Sanders, a first-year student at Rutgers University majoring in Media and Journalism and minoring Africana studies, was present to accept the award, spoke about her love for her hometown.
"My pride for New Brunswick goes through the roof," she tells the crowd. "We're not what people think we are. What happens outside the school does not affect the kids inside the school."
"Once a Zebra, always a Zebra."