Honors presented at annual Freedom Fund Awards

brianhonorspresented.jpgLocal students, residents and community leaders were honored for accomplishments ranging from notable academic achievement and social or religious activism to exemplary lifetime and history contributions during the 11th annual Freedom Fund Awards Dinner of the Cheltenham-Area NAACP branch at the Flourtown Country Club.

Hosted by well-known local radio personality Tiffany Bacon, who started her career at Temple University’s WRTI and moved on to Power 99 FM, WRNB 107.9 and Praise 103.9 FM, the June 25 program was well-attended by several hundred guests, including business, academic and religious leaders, as well as local and state politicians.

A major highlight of the evening was the presentation of the historic civil rights’ organization’s Lifetime Achievement Award by branch President Harvey L. Crudup to attorney Cheryl Lynne Austin, a noted candidate for judge of the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas with a private practice in Willow Grove.

The former Montgomery County assistant district attorney and county solicitor was commended for her professional and civic contributions, as well as service as co-chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Military and Veterans Affairs Committee. Austin is also a retired U.S. Navy captain and today serves on the board of the Montgomery County Community College.

The keynote speaker, the Rev. Paul J. Thomas who’s an African Methodist Episcopal preacher, set the overall tone for the evening by focusing on the need of the “baby boomer” generation to help clear the way for forthcoming accomplishments of up-and-coming young trailblazers who will become “tomorrow’s leaders.”

“We’ve got to pass the baton,” said Thomas, a 2004 graduate of Lincoln University and the Turner Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Ga., where he received a 2007 master’s degree in divinity. “It’s graduation time,” he continued, noting that older powerbrokers of past movements must not “rob the next generation of their purpose” by being over critical and trite.

An educator in the William Penn School District in Delaware County, Thomas has served as a preacher for congregations in the Atlanta and Philadelphia-metropolitan areas.

The Community Service Award recipient was Joanne Spear, presented by Pastor Keith Hayward of the LaMott AME Church, who also gave the invocation and benediction. Spear was acknowledged for her exceptional help in feeding the hungry in the region, with Hayward commending her immense spirit, humanity and vigor.

The Religious Community Award recipients included the pastor of The Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church, the Rev. Dr. Alyn Waller, as well as Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park.

Recipients in the educational achievement area were Ali Salahuddin and Helen McCrary Salahuddin, Esq., for their founding and superb leadership of the African Genesis Institute — a program that allows young people in “developing an understanding and awareness of the African experience in America,” as well as travel to North and West Africa.

Yona Diamond Dansky was recognized for contributions to the Cheltenham Academics tutoring program and several local educators were hailed, too, including James Joseph, a principal of Cedarbrook Middle School; Dr. Jill Clark, vice principal of Cheltenham High School, as well as Lise Marlowe, a sixth-grade Elkins Park School teacher who was nationally the 2006 History Teacher of the Year for focusing her students on such local history topics as Camp William Penn, the first and largest official federal institution to train black soldiers during the Civil War, once located in what is today Cheltenham Township’s LaMott neighborhood.

Marlowe also accepted the Youth Recognition Award for her student Tyler Hamler, 11, recognized for helping to pull together a film and publications about the black soldiers that included one of her ancestors.

The story aired on local television stations, as well as on NBC’s national website focusing on African-American culture, “The Grio.” The story can be found at: www.thegrio.com/black-history/philadelphia-student-direct-descendant-of-first-black-soldier.php.

Indeed, others were particularly noted for their history contributions, including William Chambres, founder of a website dedicated to Cheltenham’s historic community of LaMott via his websitewww.historic-lamott-pa.com, as well as the board of Citizens for the Restoration of Historical LaMott, led by Joyce Werkman who is also a member of the Cheltenham Township Historical Commission.

The Social Justice Award was given to Brian Gralnick for his focus on recognizing the inequities in the criminal justice system that too often and unfairly persecutes young black men and youth.

In keeping with Thomas’ potent message to elevate area youth, numerous awards were given to high-achieving and involved students, including college scholarships, partially based on qualifying essays.

Cheltenham High recipients included Dakota London. With plans to become a licensed psychologist, he will be attending Indiana University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

David Preston Waller, also a senior at Cheltenham, plans to attend Widener University, majoring in bio-medical engineering and pursuing baseball.

Kristina Mason earned many awards on the girls track team and plans to attend Howard University’s pre-physical therapy program.

Springfield High School graduate Rafiat Kasumu, a Nigerian native, will be attending the University of Pennsylvania where she will become a pre-med major.

Springfield’s Rehema Korich, of Kenyan ancestry, is a leader of the school’s service organization, Interact and plans to study education at the University of Pittsburgh.

Her classmate, Imani Thomas, will be attending West Chester University in the fall, majoring in broadcast communications and focusing too on marketing.

Rounding out the high school award recipients were Jin Kyuk Kim and Valeriya Kim of Jenkintown High School. Jin plans to attend Temple University and major in biology before pursuing medical school.

Valeriya, chief editor of the school newspaper among several activities, is also a pianist for the Jenkintown Jazz Combo and plans to attend college.

Finally, Plymouth Whitemarsh High School recipients included Brittany Ellis Hanna, very active in several clubs, with plans for medical research at St. John’s University. That is while Rosa Hargrove of that school will be studying international relations and French at Wellesley College in the fall.


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