The Oscar R. Freeman Freedom Fund Awards Banquet will start with a reception at 6:30 p.m., followed by the dinner and awards ceremony at the Atlanta Marriott Northwest.
It is the 32nd year of the banquet, which Cobb County NAACP President Deane Bonner said is a premier event and major fundraiser with 300 to 400 people attending.
In 2010, the event was renamed to honor a past president of the NAACP’s Cobb branch, Oscar Freeman, who was a minister and U.S. Air Force Reserve master sergeant.
A native of Marietta, Oscar Freeman died in March 2009 at age 69. His son, Travis Freeman, will be attending the banquet for the third consecutive year.
As far back as Travis Freeman said he can remember, his father was a community man, who “always strived to have a presence in the community,” to help those in need and bring people together.
Travis Freeman said his father, who devoted himself to the service of others, would be “elated” that the banquet continues to “salute doers.”
For years, the event has been at the Hilton Marietta Hotel and Conference Center off Powder Springs Street, but the NAACP state convention was at the Marriott last November.
Bonner said the wonderful ambience and focus on customer service at that event was the deciding factor in moving the awards banquet from the Hilton to the Marriott this year.
Generations in the Cobb NAACP
Travis Freeman, 46, who has lived in Marietta his entire life, said the city has come a long way socially and politically with the help of the Cobb NAACP.
Travis Freeman points to the awards banquet as an event that has lasted for generations and allows youth to witness a legacy of giving back.
“If they are doing good in the neighborhood, it is going to be something I support,” Freeman said.
Bonner said residents of Cobb County are submitted for nomination by mostly Cobb NAACP members, and the winners are chosen by a selection committee. There are four fields, including community service, education, youth activities and business.
This year, four people nominated the same businessman new to the Cobb area; Martin Wodi, who has opened an independent pharmacy, Artem Pharmaceutica, on Roswell Road near the corner of Fairground Street.
Artem Pharmaceutica is devoted to explaining health care treatments to customers, offers specialty and customized medications, accepts Medicaid and Medicare, and delivers products upon request.
“It is just a plus to have a businessman like him in the neighborhood,” Bonner said.
The education honoree, Mattie Small, is the Cobb NAACP education committee chairperson and a former principal for a school in DeKalb.
“She is a seasoned educator,” Bonner said.
Small has been instrumental in guiding support for Common Core and has exceeded all expectations for education advocacy, Bonner said.
“There is nothing that we do that does not include youth,” Bonner said.
Tonight, a senior at Kell High School, Dana Nicole Ezerson, 17, and a Wheeler High School student, Nickolus Winslow, 16, will also be honored.
Fight for your right to vote
This year’s theme for the Oscar R. Freeman Freedom Fund Awards Banquet is “NAACP: We shall not be moved,” which Bonner said is in reference to fighting against road blocks to voting rights.
In June, a 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court struck down a portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. The ruling deemed it unconstitutional for states and local governments to be required federal clearance for changes to their elections, including the location of a polling precincts.
This year, Bonner said the Cobb NAACP is focused on ensuring equal access to every voter.
“We’ve paid too big of a price to vote,” Bonner said. “(The Supreme Court decision) is not going to take us back 100 years.”
Bonner said the organization is trying to alert residents about changes nationally and locally, including the redistricting of Marietta that was approved by the City Council in December.
The Cobb NAACP registers voters yearround and the local office will be open Election Day on Nov. 5 to offer residents rides to the polls.
The fourth honoree will be representing an entire civil rights group that claims to advocate for the underserved.
Travis Freeman said the name, “The Oscar R. Freeman Freedom Fund Awards Banquet,” speaks for itself.
“Freedom is for everyone,” Travis Freeman said.
Recognition for immigrants
Rich Pellegrino, the outspoken face and director of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance, said he went to the banquet several years ago and will attend Saturday night to accept the community service award.
Pellegrino said the recognition is for immigrants of all backgrounds, who are part of the community and should have a strong camaraderie with African-Americans because of their shared experiences.
In the past, Latin Americans and African-Americans have been divided, but this step to highlight the Cobb Immigrant Alliance indicates a maturing of the community to stand together, Pellegrino said.
“White privilege is still so strong everywhere,” said Pellegrino, who added that “racism is alive and well,” especially in the “gross disparity” of earnings between races.
“Immigrant issues are not about the law, but about angst by the white community about the browning of America,” Pellegrino said. “I think Cobb is a great weather vane for the nation on how America is increasing its diversity.”
* Business award: Martin Wodi, owner of independent pharmacy, Artem Pharmaceutica
* Education award: Mattie Small, Cobb NAACP education committee chairperson and a former principal
* Youth award: Dana Nicole Ezerson of Kell High School and Nickolus Winslow of Wheeler High School
* Community award: Rich Pellegrino, director of the Cobb Immigrant Alliance