Dubuque NAACP Freedom Fund banquet honors local organizations, residents

Other awards

NAACP officials also presented two other awards at the banquet:

  • Developing & Demanding One’s Mental Excellence Minority Student Athlete of the Year Award: Jayda Gooch, Dubuque Senior High School
  • Thomas Determan Standout Community Organization Pursuing Equity Award: Dubuque for Refugee Children

Several community organizations and individuals were recognized at an annual banquet hosted by the Dubuque branch of the NAACP on Sunday.

About 100 people attended the organization’s 32nd annual Freedom Fund Banquet, held at Best Western Plus Dubuque Hotel & Conference Center.

Branch President Anthony Allen said the event serves as both a fundraiser and a chance for the NAACP to honor local residents working to bring justice and equity to the Dubuque area.

That work, he said, is more important than ever in the face of the ongoing pandemic.

“There’s another virus that we’ve been fighting before (COVID-19) ever showed up — the virus of hate and racism,” Allen said. “It continues to exist.”

The event included a keynote speech from Gabrielle Martin, the daughter of Dubuque native Robert L. Martin, who flew with the Tuskegee Airmen, a group of the first Black aviators to fly for the U.S. military during World War II.

Following Martin’s death in 2018, the Dubuque Regional Airport Commission voted to name the airport terminal after him. Fundraising efforts are ongoing to build a memorial for Martin at the airport.

Gabrielle Martin told attendees the story of her father’s childhood in Dubuque and his experiences in combat. She emphasized that his work continued after his return to the U.S., where the Tuskegee Airmen faced racism and struggled to find employment.

After moving to Chicago, Martin became one of the founders of the Chicago Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. The group sought to share its story with the rest of the country and help young Black aviators achieve their goals.

“They really wanted to make sure they had not stared down the face of the enemy, only to come home and have nothing change,” Gabrielle Martin said.

The event also featured the presentation of several awards, including the Ruby Sutton Award, which was given to the Rev. Daniel J. Knepper.

The award, named for longtime Dubuque community activist Ruby Sutton, honors an individual whose work “furthers our march for justice and equality for all,” according to former award recipient Ernestine Moss.

Knepper has served on the nominating, membership and housing committees of the local NAACP branch and has worked with various community organizations such as the Dubuque Circles Initiative.

He said he was humbled to receive the award.

“I certainly do try to continue what Ruby Sutton began in our community,” he said. “… I only do just a little bit, but, like all of us, I believe we need to have a more inclusive community, truly welcoming the stranger (and) the person of color.”