Presidential candidate Kamala Harris discusses voter rights, reform at annual NAACP freedom dinner

Monday, May 6, 2019 - 3:22pm

Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., gave the keynote address to a crowd of 10,000 people at the 64th annual NAACP Fight for Freedom Dinner at the Cobo Conference Center in Detroit Sunday evening. The Detroit branch of the NAACP is the largest in the nation.

Harris is one of over 20 people running for the Democratic nomination. According to CNN, Former Vice President Joe Biden is currently leading election opinion polls, while Harris is polling at 5 percent. Before being elected to the U.S. Congress, Harris served as the Attorney General of California and the District Attorney of San Francisco.

The NAACP hosted a press conference before the dinner began. At the press conference, President of the Detroit NAACP Rev. Dr. Wendell Anthony said the stakes are too high in the upcoming election to not participate.

“We must be counted … the stakes are too great to sit this out,” Anthony said. “What’s riding on the election is our lives, our freedom.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., echoed these sentiments later in the evening. He also emphasized the importance of the Census as well as the 2020 election, in which he will be running for re-election.

“I will tell you there are some people in this country who don’t want you counted,” Peters said. “They don’t want your voice heard.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said she will serve as a partner to Michigan in providing more opportunities for college and work advancement. She said the NAACP is a bedrock in the state.

“The true infrastructure in our state that we need to address is the lack of opportunity,” Whitmer said. “You not only have a seat at the table, but you have a partner in me.”

After the press conference, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., said the NAACP has played a major role in fighting for equal rights in America.

“I’ve been coming to this dinner for a long time, and the NAACP has played a critical role for decades in fighting for civil rights and equal opportunity for all,” Dingell said. “I was really in the trenches when we fought for affirmative action at the University of Michigan. The people who are a part of this organization are good people that I am proud to work with.”

Additional Michigan politicians in attendance included Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

After the press conference, guests came together for dinner and remarks from winners of various awards. Dr. Charles Adams, pastor of the Hartford Memorial Baptist Church, was given the James Weldon Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award. Musician and philanthropist Akon received the Freedom & Justice Award. Amanda Alexander, executive director of the Detroit Justice Center, and Darryl Woods Sr., former prison branch president at Ryan Correctional Facility, were both given the Great Expectations Award.

Akon said African Americans should attempt to adjust the way they view their own identities.

“There’s no reason to have an African American,” Akon said. “You’re just an African in America.”

Harris then began her keynote address to the crowd. She began by saying America’s political system needs to be reformed to better represent the everyday citizen.

“The system is in need of reform, so let’s have people on the inside prepared to use their power to open doors and prepared to implement the agenda to make the system more fair and just,” Harris said. “That is what I have done from the first day I walked into the San Francisco (District Attorney’s) office, from the first day I walked into the California (Attorney General’s) office, from the first day I walked into the U.S. Senate, and that is what I will do the first day I walk into the Oval Office.”

Harris also proposed a policy regarding voting rights after voting controversies following the 2018 midterm elections.

“The truth is, we need a new Voting Rights Act in this country with automatic voter registration,” Harris said. “Election Day as a national holiday, and we need to fight back against Republicans who suppress our constitutional right to vote.”

Harris emphasized themes of racial justice, immigration, health care, teacher pay, gun violence and criminal justice reform. Throughout her speech, she positioned herself in opposition to the policies and ideologies of President Donald Trump.

“Let’s speak truth here today: this President isn’t trying to make America great; he’s trying to make America hate,” Harris said. “It’s time we had a leader who speaks out against hate in all its forms. It’s time we had a President who’s not scared to call neo-Nazi violence what it is: domestic terrorism. I know we are better than this.”

Canton resident Cassye Rankin told The Daily during the dinner she was excited to see Harris speak in person.

“I always enjoy hearing the different speakers who come out as just celebrating us as people as well,” Rankin said. “I’m super excited to hear (Harris). She provides a breath of fresh air, and I hope she’s the person that gets Trump out of office.”

Other presidential candidates were also in Michigan over the weekend. Sen. Corey Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., came Thursday to the National Organization of Black County Officials Economic Development Conference in Detroit. Entrepreneur Andrew Yang held a rally at the Detroit Shipping Company Saturday evening. U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, also spoke at the Kent County Democratic Party fundraiser on Saturday.