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NAACP Gears Up for Michigan Affirmative Action Fight


A major NAACP fund-raiser provided a platform Sunday for critics of a ballot initiative that, if passed, would restrict affirmative action programs in Michigan.

“We may have entered college through affirmative action, but we did not graduate through affirmative action,” U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said in her keynote address at the 51st annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner held by the Detroit branch of the NAACP.

“A hand up is not a handout,” Jackson Lee told the estimated 10,000 guests. “This is the key to success.”

The 50,000-member Detroit branch of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People is one of the nation’s largest. The theme for this year’s event at Cobo Center was “We’ve Come too Far to Turn Back Now — Preserve Affirmative Action.”

Michigan voters in November will be asked whether government and university admissions programs should be prohibited from giving preferential treatment to groups or individuals based on their race, gender, color, ethnicity or national origin.

The Michigan Civil Rights Initiative’s major supporters include California businessman Ward Connerly, who has supported similar proposals in his home state and in Washington state. Opponents to the Michigan proposal waged a lengthy but unsuccessful legal battle to block the referendum.

Jackson Lee called the MCRI “the second coming of Jim Crow” and asked the audience, “Are you just part of the membership, or are you part of the movement?”

At a news conference before the dinner, Gov. Jennifer Granholm, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the NAACP’s Detroit chapter, voiced opposition to the MCRI.

“We’re not just here for a dinner, we are here for a civil rights event,” Anthony said. Preserving affirmative action, he said, “is not just a Black issue. This is a national issue.”

“On behalf of the city of Detroit, I say, bring it on,” said Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. “If you want a fight, there is one waiting for you right here … we need a fight. It’s time to stand up and it’s time to step up.”

Kilpatrick, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, D-Mich., and U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., also spoke during the dinner.

Carol White, a lifelong Detroiter attending her seventh Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner, welcomed Jackson Lee’s message.

“There is going to be change, and a revolution is necessary to make change,” White says.

The Detroit chapter of the NAACP has been sponsoring the Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner since 1956. Civil rights lawyer and future U.S. Supreme Court justice Thurgood Marshall was the event’s first speaker. U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., was the keynote speaker last year.

— Associated Press

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