Rutland will be in the spotlight this year at the Rutland Area NAACP Freedom Fund Dinner next month, as one of the three big awards will go to the city’s former mayor and another will go to students at Rutland High School.
The branch is one of two NAACP chapters in Vermont, and covers more than just Rutland or Rutland County, but this year’s winners were found close to home.
Tabitha Moore, president of the local chapter, said this year the Youth Courage in Action Award will go to the members of Rutland High School’s New Neighbors Club, primarily Jamison Evans, Alex and Noah White and Greta Solsaa, for their work in getting the Black Lives Matter flag raised at the school and for the curriculum that goes with it.
“We’re just so proud of them. That was incredibly difficult, and to be there with them in that moment was an honor for us, to be able to support them. It was so moving to see them work so hard to get that to happen,” she said.
The Courage in Action Award will be given to former Rutland City mayor Christopher Louras for his efforts to bring Syrian refugees to Rutland. Most of the refugees who would have come to the city never made it to Vermont because of changes at the federal level, but Louras said after he lost his re-election bid that he believed the issue was responsible for his loss to former alderman David Allaire.
“He knew going into the decision to try to bring refugees to Rutland — he knew that he was taking a big risk. He knew that he was putting his career on the line, and he did it anyway. That’s exactly what people do when they’re committed to justice and serving the people, not just here but around the globe, most in need of community,” Moore said.
Louras said he was “taken aback by the honor.”
“While I’m honored by the award, there really is — and I said this before — there’s really no courage in doing the right thing. In saying that, I don’t want to diminish the value and honor of the award, but it’s really those who educated me, from my perspective, specifically, former (Rutland City Police) Chief James Baker and Curtiss Reed,” he said.
Louras said Baker and Reed, who is the executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, educated him in the importance of diversity, inclusion and compassion.
Louras said what makes him proudest about the refugee issue is the number of people who took up and carried through similar efforts, including the Rutland High School students who welcomed refugee families and arranged the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag.
The Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Neil and Mickie Richardson, of Randolph, who are lifetime members of the NAACP.
Both have been involved in issues of social justice since the 1960s, starting in Massachusetts before moving to Vermont.
In Randolph, they started the group Focus On Racial Equity, or FORE, out of St. John’s Episcopal Church, and supported the raising of the Black Lives Matter flag at Randolph Union High School in January.
Every branch is required to host a Freedom Fund dinner to celebrate the successes of the branch and “to honor and recognize the people in the community who are doing really great work for racial justice and the mission of the NAACP,” Moore said. The Rutland branch’s first Freedom Fund dinner was in 2018.
The dinner is a ticketed event, but Moore said the proceeds allow the NAACP chapter to offer other events at no cost to participants.
The Freedom Fund Dinner is set for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 16, starting at at the Franklin Conference room at the Howe Center. Keynote speaker Maria Stephan, a graduate of Mill River Union High School and the director of the program on nonviolent action at the U.S. Institute of Peace, is scheduled to start her presentation at 6:30 p.m.
A bio posted to the NAACP website said Stephan was previously the “lead foreign affairs officer in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations, where she worked on both policy and operations for Afghanistan and Syria engagements.”
Tickets for the dinner can be purchased online at naacprutland.app.rsvpify.com.