BILOXI -- Several local residents and businesses were shown appreciation for their leadership and positive impact in South Mississippi during the 2016 Biloxi NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet, held Saturday at IP Casino Resort.
The top honor, the President's Award, went to Ja'Leasa Walden, as the person who most "exemplifies the spirit of Biloxi."
Walden successfully spearheaded several community projects, primarily as director of Community Engagement/Training for Steps Coalition and also as an executive board member for the Biloxi NAACP.
The honor was presented by Biloxi NAACP President James Crowell.
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Attorney Dawn Stough was given the Dr. Gilbert R. Mason Sr. Award, for "exemplifying the spirit of the NAACP." Stough provides valuable pro bono legal work for the branch's Legal Redress Committee. The award is named after the Biloxi NAACP's first president and a principle leader in the historic "Wade-In" civil rights protest marches that led to the integration of the Gulf Coast beaches in the 1960s.
Bishop Rick August, senior pastor of Greater Grace Apostolic Assembly, was named the recipient of the Dorothy Lashley Award for "outstanding leadership in religious affairs." Head Deacon Lawrence Wheaton accepted the award on behalf of August.
IP Casino was one of three corporations honored, receiving the Alexander Bellamy Award for being the top corporate contributor in support of NAACP programs. Director of Security Alfred Sexton represented the company in accepting the award.
Two Wilmer McDaniel Awards went to Beau Rivage Resort & Casino and Mississippi Power, both given for "the business or corporation doing the most to uplift the community." Frank Magee of Mississippi Power's Community Development department accepted the award for his corporation.
Dr. Melanie Nelson, principal of Jeff Davis Elementary School, was given the Gwendolyn DeMarks Award for her effective leadership in education. Nelson's school has earned some of the top academic scores in South Mississippi.
The Second Liners Mardi Gras Club was given the first of two Charlie Clay Sr. Awards for its year-round community service and annual Mardi Gras parade. President Anthony Mitchell led a group of several members who were present to accept the honor.
Dr. Persharon Dixon was given the second Charlie Clay Sr. Award for "contributing the most to uplifting the community." Dixon was credited for expanding activities as chair of the Martin Luther King Coastwide Celebration Committee.
Renick Taylor was given the Herbert Caliste Award for "contributing the most in political action" for his strong activism with the Democratic Party in South Mississippi. He was a 2012 Mississippi delegate for the Democratic National Convention.
Cynthia Lee was announced as the Biloxi NAACP's 2016 Mother of the Year. Several other citizens were awarded as Lifetime Members of the NAACP.
The banquet's keynote speaker, Mississippi NAACP State Conference President Derrick Johnson, gave an inspiring oratory in accordance to the banquet's theme, Moving Forward Together. Kendra Turley, WXXV-25 reporter, was the event's emcee. Soloists Lolita Bolden and Jamion Burney provided entertainment.