NAACP Raises Over $60k for Student Stipends
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — the NAACP, Berkshire County Branch raised over $60,000 for student stipends during their annual Freedom Fund Awards Celebration that was held virtually this year.
On Saturday, Jan. 23, the NAACP, Berkshire County Branch hosted its annual Freedom Fund Awards Celebration virtually. Each year, the event raises funds to provide stipends to students of color in Berkshire County that are planning on attending college or trade school the following year and honors individuals who are leaders in the work towards equity and justice. The group set a goal of $25,000, but were able to rasie over $60,000 to support students of color in the Berkshires.
"I'm incredibly proud to live in the Berkshires, where community members, organizations, and businesses come together to support our students," Branch President Dennis Powell said about the ceremony. "Each year, we've increased the amount of the stipends that we've given out, and we're thinking critically about how we can use this new capacity to expand our stipends further and create more robust support systems for our students of color from the Berkshires."
The event opened with reflections from Powell regarding the events of the past year, the insurrection at the United States Capitol, the historic election of Kamala Harris as Vice President, and the work of Black organizers in Georgia to flip the senate. His remarks were then followed by a performance of the Black national anthem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," performed by Chantell MacFarlan and Marisa Massery.
Two former recipients of the Freedom Fund stipend, Olivia Nda (Howard University) and Fleur Serenko (Berkshire Community College), shared their experiences of how the stipends have supported them on their academic journey and how the encouragement of the Berkshire Branch of the NAACP has helped them use their voices to "be the change we want to see." The students' voices were followed by two community leaders, Roberta MacCulloch-Dews and Jerome Edgerton, emphasizing the role and importance of mentorship and education in the lives of our youth of color
Three awards were presented: Dr. Francres Jones Sneed presented Rachel Fletcher with the W. E. B. Du Bois Freedom Fund Award for her work in founding the Du Bois River Garden in Great Barrington; Jacob's Pillow's Executive Director, Pam Tatge presented Williams College's Sandra Burton with the Baba Chuck Davis Freedom Award for her use of the connecting power of dance to bring communities together in the Berkshires; and Shirley Edgerton presented Pittsfield High School's Lori Murphy with the Margaret Hart Freedom Award for her work in creating educational spaces where students of all cultures can learn and thrive.
The keynote speaker of the evening was author, columnist, and speaker, Deesha Philyaw. In conversation with Pittsfield High School senior, Sadiya Quetti, Philyaw urged the audience to be "a bit less comfortable and a bit less complacent than before" and to "see and engage the world around us even a little bit differently" as she connected her National Book Award finalist collection of short stories, The Secret Life of Church Ladies, to freedom.
The event was closed out by event co-chair, Toni Buckley, who thanked the sponsors of the event including Berkshire Bank, Greylock Federal Credit Union, and Williams College, among others. Reverend Sheila Sholes-Ross gave the closing Benediction before Misty Blues closed out the night.