By Aisha I. Jefferson
A message of empowerment, equal opportunity and unity was among the highlights of the Second Annual Keep Hope Alive Banquet held Saturday night at the Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel.
About 130 people turned out for the Clayton-Henry-Fayette-Spalding Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Chapter-sponsored event, including Clayton County Schools Superintendent Barbara Pulliam, Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill and invited guest speaker, District 4 U.S. Rep. Cynthia McKinney, D-Decatur.
Some banquet attendees appeared in awe while in McKinney's company, and several waited to take pictures with her.
"Congresswoman McKinney is truly a powerful and courageous voice for black people," said Gail Davenport, president of the Clayton-Henry-Fayette-Spalding Rainbow Push Chapter.
During her address, McKinney touched on the voter identification bill, her 2002 election defeat and the degeneration of black youth through the current hip-hop culture. She also passed along words of encouragement to Hill and Riverdale Mayor Phaedra Graham, both of whom have been the centers of controversy since taking their respective posts.
"... and I am proud of our Clayton County Sheriff," McKinney said.
When organizers conceptualized the idea for the banquet, they wanted the event to serve as an opportunity to give the organization more exposure as well as to get more community involvement, explained Rev. Fred Shillow, first vice president of the Clayton-Henry-Fayette-Spalding Rainbow/PUSH Coalition Chapter.
"You still need an organization like this to make sure all citizens are participating in our local governments," Shillow said.
Davenport said continuing to ensure blacks are fairly represented when it comes to receiving county contracts is among the local Rainbow/ PUSH chapter's checklist of things to do.
"Just because some of us have a college education and good paying jobs does not mean we should not reach back and help those who do not," Davenport said.
The chapter also is gathering signatures in support of the re-authorization of key provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, in which the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition will sponsor a march Aug. 6 in Atlanta with the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr., the organization's founder.
But, the event was not all about politics.
Mistress of ceremonies Xernona Clayton, a longtime executive with Turner Broadcasting Systems, and creator and executive producer of the Trumpet Awards, kept the crowd laughing throughout the night. The Riverdale High School Jazz Band provided musical selections as the crowd ate dinner. A silent auction was also conducted, and door prizes were given away.
Jackson founded Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) in 1971 and the Rainbow Coalition in 1985. In the early 1990s, Jackson combined the two organizations to form the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.