By Stacy M. Brown,NNPA Newswire Correspondent
Dr. Wally Smith began working with patients with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD), when he concluded that nobody wanted them.
However, the widely known SCD expert, who has dedicated his professional career to helping improve the lives of all who suffer from the genetic blood disorder, never gave up and continues to work diligently to help so many and to get much-needed funding, research and proper treatment.
A Florence Neal Cooper Smith Professor of SCD at Virginia Commonwealth University, internist and national authority on health disparities, quality improvement and Sickle Cell Disease, Smith was among those who received the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) National Leadership Award for outstanding contributions in addressing the issues concerning SCD, which predominately affects those of African ancestry.
Also a health service researcher, Dr. Smith’s timely work on SCD and the equally timely advances on medical research and advocacy for the disease help earn him the coveted recognition. The award is also a result of the ongoing partnership between the NNPA and Pfizer Rare Disease.
Awardees also included California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters; Texas Democratic Rep. Al Green; South Carolina Democratic Rep. Jim Clyburn; National Teacher of the Year Jahana Hayes; Capstone Development Founder Norman K. Jenkins; E-Commerce Leader Arsha Jones; Television Personality Kellee Edwards; and legendary poll worker Laura Wooten.
“We are here to recognize our brothers and sisters who are truly national leaders and who stand for freedom, justice and equality not when its popular, but when it’s not so popular to be freedom fighters,” said NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr.
In her typical fiery but still eloquent way, Waters spoke passionately about she and other Democrats mission to impeach President Donald Trump – though, like all of the recipients, she never mentioned the president by name only referring to him as “Number 45.”
“My friend Jesse Jackson said if you fight, you can win. If you don’t fight, you will never know if you can win,” said Waters, who also took time to heap praise upon NNPA National Chairman Dorothy R. Leavell, the publisher of the Crusader newspapers in Gary, Indiana and Chicago.
For those who insist that Vice President Mike Pence might turn out as a worse Commander in Chief than Trump, Waters scoffed.
“I say knock off the first, and go after the second,” she said, as the sold-out crowd inside the grand ballroom of the Marriot Marquis roared its approval of her fiery award acceptance speech.
Green, the veteran civil rights advocate who’s serving his seventh term in Congress, picked up where Waters left off.
“I promise that I have not given up on impeachment,” Green said. “We have a president who is not only unfit for the presidency, but a man who is unfit for any office in the United States of America.”
Clyburn, who arrived in Congress in 1993 and is the third-ranking Democrat, followed his colleagues and helped to drive home their impeachment argument.
“I learned early what it means to challenge the system. I learned from my dad what it means to have the power of the almighty vote,” Clyburn said. “If the election goes the way it seems like it is, you will have the best years of your lives going forward.”
A trade organization representing the 220 African American owned newspapers around the country with more than 22 million weekly subscribers, the NNPA began the Leadership Awards in 2014.
The awards honor individuals who are national leaders in their specific fields and whose actions have helped to improve the quality of life for African Americans and others.
The producers of the NNPA Leadership Awards Reception decided that the best time to host such an awards reception would be during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference, a weeklong event that’s held each September.
The CBC ALC week is the largest annual gathering in the United States that features 15,000 to 20,000 African American leaders and influencers.
The underlying joint purpose of the CBC ALC and the NNPA National Leadership Awards Reception is to network, collaborate and strategize collectively for the advancement and empowerment of Black America.
Counting among the sponsors and supporters of the NNPA Leadership Awards Reception were General Motors, Ford Motor Company, Pfizer Rare Disease, RAI Reynolds, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AT&T, Southwest Airlines, Northrop Grumman, Volkswagen, Wells Fargo, AARP, Koch Industries, Comcast, API, AmeriHealth, Ascension Health, Comcast, and Compassion & Choices.
At 97, Wooten is the longest continuously serving poll worker in America.
Immediately upon graduating from Princeton High School in 1939, Wooten was recruited to work the polls by her great uncle, Anderson Mitnaul, who was running for Justice of the Peace.
More than seven decades later, Wooten is still working the polls and her 79 year streak remains intact.
“Voting is important,” Wooten told the audience who also saluted her with a prolong standing ovation.