By Tricia Hall
The Truth reporter
Toledo gathered to celebrate the annual Toledo NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet. The 108th annual dinner was held on Saturday, October 28th at The Glass City Convention Center, located in downtown Toledo, and uplifted the theme, ‘Thriving Together.
In traditional measure the occasion featured remarkable entertainment and keynote speaker. The 2023 entertainment was Juke Box featuring Toledo’s own Kermit Quinn and 2023 keynote speaker Jeff Johnson.
Kristian Brown, the seasoned event mistress of ceremonies and 13ABC anchor, officially opened the banquet. Kaylee Britt, ACT-SO winner delivered a summary of the program and official welcome. Pastor Perry Harris III of United Vision Baptist Church, located in North Toledo, presented the invocation.
“Welcome to the 108 Freedom Fund Banquet. You look good to night. I’m so honored to serve as your mistress of ceremonies,” said Brown.
“Thank you for being here tonight. I welcome you here tonight to the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet. The NAACP has effected and changed so many lives including mine,” shared Britt.
The banquet continued with Khali Moore leading ‘Lift Every Voice and Sing,’ official greetings was delivered by Toledo NAACP president Rev. Willie Perryman, Jr., PhD and special presentations given to Jeff Johnson and Toledo NAACP president Dr. Perryman.
“To our dignitaries and honorees and esteemed guests, welcome. I am looking forward to listening to Mr. Johnson. Let’s applaud him, he’s Toledo’s own and we’re so proud of him. His work has reached across all of the United States. Thank you to our Freedom Fund team, this place looks wonderful,” shared Perryman.
“I have an unusual and special memory with our guest speaker, about 25-30 years ago while we were both students at the University of Toledo. He was the student government president and I was president of the Young Democrats, we met up and had a great conversation. I was trying to get him to join the Young Democrats, but he knew in his mind that he had bigger things in mind. He’s a true national leader,” shared Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz during the proclamation presentation to Dr. Perryman.
Immediately following dinner service, the banquet continued with the presentation of awards by Dr. Perryman and Micheal Alexander, words of gratitude by Alexander, introduction of key speaker by Robert Gabriel III and keynote speaker Jeff Johnson.
“Thank our committee, to the mistress of ceremonies and to Ray Woods. We have four of our past presidents here, can you all please stand. Thank you for what you have done, we stand on the work that you have done. Thank you to the sponsors, we couldn’t do this without our sponsors. Thank you to our youth of ACT-So, thank you to my wife. Thank you, thank you, thank you,” shared Alexander.
The 2023 honorees were: Zia Cooke, Alfonso Narvaez and Tony Totty.
- Zia Cooke is a Toledo native and basketball phenom. She played basketball and graduated from Rogers High School, but also earned a McDonald’s All-Star player and back-to-back Ohio Division II State Champion. She later attended, played basketball and graduated from the University of South Carolina. The team became national champions in 2022. While attending University of South Carolina, the team appeared in the final four NACC tournaments and was recognized as a three-time SEC Academic Honor Roll student. In 2023, she launched her professional basketball career as the 10th overall first round draft pick for the Los Angeles Sparks.
- Alfonzo Narvaez is a long-time North Toledo activist who started a block watch group in 2011, in 2015 brought attention to the fact that the Greenbelt Parkway had over 100 street lights that had burnt out which resulted in a repairs one month later, has partnered with Lowe’s to distribute masks and other pandemic needed supplies during Covid to Zablocki Senior Center and Salem Lutheran Church. He has served on the Lucas County Land Bank Grant review committee, Lucas County Board of Mental Health and Recovery Board grant review committee, and Toledo Police Civilian Review Board.
- Tony Totty is the president of UAW Local 14 and serves on local boards including: Toledo Technology Academy of Engineering, Toledo Fair Housing Center, and the United Way of Greater Toledo. He actively mentors at MLK Academy for Boys, was one of the litigants in the Fair Maps lawsuit that won in the Ohio Supreme Court.
“First, thank you God. Thank you to my parents for always being there for me. Thank you to everyone in the community, Toledo is always my home and I will always come home and show my love,” shared Cooke.
“Thank you. I am lost for words. I’ve worked in the North Toledo area and was inspired by my neighbors. My goal was to change the perception of the neighborhood, we’ve come so far. We will continue to work to make the community a better place,” shared Narvaez.
“Thank you for this great honor. I look around the room and see my friends and know that I won’t be here without you. One of the first jobs that I had was a committee person and I’m active on some boards in the community. Fair Housing does a great job in the community and United Ways 211 demonstrates that the need in our community is great. We’re on strike for a better deal, and thank you Toledo for your support. We’re the ones that help the community, but right now the community is helping us. Lastly, MLK Academy, the work that they do is greatly appreciated. I remember when Ms. Cook pulled me aside the first day of school after I had spoken with the boys. I try to bring someone into the classroom that looks like them. So the boys can believe it and do it. People come to speak with the boys so they can see a future in any profession that they have an interest in. It’s important that we support them, and I hope we can continue to support them,” shared Totty.
“Thank our committee, thank you to the MC, Ray Woods, four of our past presidents are here, thank you for what you have done. Thank you for the sponsors, we couldn’t do this without our sponsors. Thank you to our youth ACT-SO, thank you to my wife. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you,” shared Alexander.
The 2023 keynote speaker Jeff Johnson. Jeff Johnson was born in the UK but raised and graduated from high school in Cleveland, Ohio. He later graduated from the University of Toledo, where he served as both president of the Student Government and the Black Student Union. Johnson served as the National Director of the NAACP’s Youth and College Division and combined hip hop culture with political affairs during his time working at BET. Johnson has interviewed former President Barack Obama, Minister Louis Farrakhan, testified before the United States House Committee on Homeland Security regarding the effects in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and has been published on CNN.com and theRoot.com. Personally, Johnson is married to Jacqueline, father of four children and a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Incorporated.
“It is beyond an honor to be here. Toledo isn’t where I was born or raised, but where I become a man. Thank you Dr. Perryman, Micheal Alexander, the board of Toledo’s NAACP and each of the honorees. These honorees, Zia Cooke, Alfonso Narvaez and Tony Totty are doing the real work with real impact. When you’re in college in a different city, without a family close by that can understand what I needed at that time. A family that made me dinner, that gave me a safe space when folks came after me, they protected me. I became a man in Toledo, I just want to say I’m thankful to the Toledo community for investing in me, when I didn’t know myself,” opened Jeff Johnson.
2023 NAACP Toledo Executive Branch Officers: Dr. Willie Perryman Jr, president, Micheal Alexander, 1st vice president, Doris Roberts, 2nd vice president, WilliAnn Moore, 3rd vice president, Frances Amison, treasurer, Beatrice Daniels, assistant treasurer, Valerie Brown, secretary, Kandice Saulsberry, assistance secretary. Freedom Fund Committee: Micheal Alexander, chair; Anita Madison, co-chair; Dr. Perryman, Cynthia Savage, Theresa Gabriel, Sena Friedman, Beatrice Daniels, Valerie Brown and Francis Amison, committee.