Love of neighbor and a spirit of unity were predominant themes during the inaugural Franklin Parish NAACP Image Awards program held Jan. 25.

“We are all family here,” Rev. Roosevelt Grant, president of the local NAACP branch, said as he welcomed those attending.

The event was held at the Jack Hammons Community Center in Winnsboro and is expected to become an annual tradition.

Grant served as emcee for the occasion which honored the memories of the late Rev. Herman Harris Sr., Dr. Booker T. Burkhalter and Lester Thomas Jr., former Winnsboro Chief of Police.

The awards presented Friday evening honored people who dedicate their time and service to the Franklin Parish community. The list of nominees came from across the parish and included people who are doing positive things in the community to serve others.

An Image Award ceremony is held at the national level each year by the NAACP, and this year marked the 50th anniversary of those awards, but the local award is specific to this area. In announcing the implementation of the awards program here, Grant said nominees were selected from suggestions made after the Franklin Parish branch reached out through letters, phone calls and social media. The selection process also included interviews, he said.

“We did an extensive search of all Franklin Parish to find who was doing some positive things in Franklin Parish or the surrounding area of Franklin Parish,” Grant said during his welcome address at the event.

Paraphrasing a verse from Hebrews he said we need to be aware of angels around us.

“Sometimes we can have good people around us who can be angels in disguise. Just listening to the testimonies of the people who nominated these people, we are in the midst of some blessed people this evening,” Grant said.

Honored during the first annual event were Steve Anna Johnson, Sonji Tarver, Judy Long, Pastor Bakari K. Beckwith, Ester Watson, Rochelle Kelly, Kim Kimbrough, Pastor Michael Grant, Lisa Kiper, Minister Leroy Scott and Victoria Sha’Leste Lewis.

Spokespersons introduced each of those honored and told about the ways the honorees served their communities, often without fanfare.

Spokespersons (in the order of the honorees listed) included Vivian K. Brown, Sarah Henderson, Kayla Bates, Linda Beckwith, Vanessa Adams, Shundolyn Williams, Pastor Kevin Bates, Rose Grant, Leslie Young, Lucy Scott and Victory Lewis Jr.

The service acknowledged during the awards ceremony included hours of volunteer work through personal sacrifice, involvement in community ministries and organizations, and contributions to education.

Some, like Johnson and Kiper, turned personal loss and tragedy into a call to serve and as Kiper said, a challenge to be better, not bitter.

Brown introduced Johnson. Johnson, who lost her husband and home during Hurricane Katrina, decided to focus on the needs of others.

“We call her our Florence Nightingale of Wisner. And we say that because Steve starts her morning by visiting those who are sick and shut in. And when she goes in, it’s with a prayer, it’s with a smile, it’s with a scripture. When she brings her joy into the room, nobody can be sad,” Brown said.

Named an ambassador and volunteer by Legacy Hospice, Johnson is also a board member for Council on Aging, funds a summer program for the Wisner branch of the Franklin Parish Library, works with MADD, is a licensed minister and works in many facets in her church.

Kiper lost her husband, Trey, to cancer and less than a year later watched her youngest daughter go from being a victim of a violent crime in which her daughter was nearly killed, to what has been described as a miraculous recovery.

Young, who is a close personal friend of Kiper, highlighted Kiper’s “wide-ranging” community service which included service as a board member and president of her daughters’ school, serving on the board and in productions of Princess Theatre, Chamber of Commerce board member and twice president, Salvation Army Bell Ringers, Angel Tree Ministry, local Relay for Life for the American Cancer Society and other community involvement

“More than her impressive record of service, I believe it is her character, her faith, her resilience, generosity, integrity and grace in the midst of near-crushing adversity that set her apart,” said Young.

Speaking of the tragedy related to Kiper’s daughter, Young said, “The situation could have quickly escalated, splintering our community in heated racial controversy, but Lisa would not have it. She refused to let hatred rule the day and mark her family or her community. She insisted that love, forgiveness, justice, prayer and hope would prevail, and they have. Her grace and leadership in the situation created unity, not division in our parish.”

The event also recognized the current administration for the Town of Winnsboro for their efforts to “get the town back on track.” Mayor John Dumas accepted the award on behalf of town personnel, many of whom were in attendance at the ceremony.

The evening included entertainment by Sam Winn and a catered meal. The invocation was offered by Minister Glenda Fuller and Pastor James Anderson.

(Editor’s Note: The Franklin Sun will feature the service of other individual NAACP award recipients in upcoming issues.)

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