As the nation’s youngest chair of the Freedom Fund Leadership Dinner, John Gaskin III has led the St. Louis County NAACP event to a sellout crowd two years in a row. This spring, the Ladue High School grad and Benedictine College student will go for a hat-trick. “My grandmother, Esther Haywood, is president of the organization in St. Louis,” he says, proudly. “The NAACP is in my bloodline.”
The organization’s local chapter, which works to eliminate racial discrimination and ensure political, educational, social and economic equal rights for everyone, will hold its 76th annual Freedom Fund Leadership Dinner on June 3 at The Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis. The gala, themed All in for Freedom and Equality, will begin with a reception at 5 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:45 p.m.
During the evening, 25 local contributors will be honored. NAACP national board chair Roslyn Brock, the event’s featured speaker, will receive The Lifetime Achievement Award for her acclaimed roles as a national health care advocate and starting the NAACP health initiatives. “We didn’t have a health program before her,” Gaskin notes. As the youngest-ever national board chair, Brock also started the annual NAACP Leadership 500 Summit, which brings together young professionals from across the nation to advocate for civil rights, diversity and inclusion. “She is bringing young people to the table to be involved in the conversation of civil rights, and has taken the organization to greater heights,” Gaskin explains.
Among additional honorees will be St. Louis Cardinals baseball legend Lou Brock and his wife, Rev. Jackie Brock. The couple will be recognized for their work with Old Newsboys Day, Lindenwood University, the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and the Lou Brock Scholarship Foundation. “They always are graciously giving of their time and money,” Gaskin says. Ameren president and CEO Warner Baxter is another honoree who will be lauded for contributions to the community. “Under his leadership, Ameren really has invested millions back into the community through several initiatives, including a commitment to energy efficiency and providing access to heating and cooling assistance for those in need,” Gaskin notes.
Inspirational leaders bettering the community also will be recognized, including Mayor of Ladue Nancy Spewak, Armstrong Teasdale partner Steven Cousins, and Regions Bank area president Sally Roth. Among organizations to be highlighted will be Heat Up Cool Down St. Louis, for providing valuable heating and cooling assistance to Missouri and Illinois residents in need. And the Special Education Foundation will be honored for its commitment to offering educational support and resources to underserved kids.
With more than 20 corporate supporters and Ameren as its title sponsor, the event is set to generate record funding and another sellout crowd for the third consecutive year, Gaskin says. “St. Louis is one of the most generous cities in the nation. People are very supportive of these types of causes.”
Funds from the dinner will allow St. Louis County NAACP to further its local and national initiatives. “The NAACP has been the vanguard for nearly all civil rights and human rights victories for the last 105 years,” Gaskin says. The organization’s St. Louis County members, which have grown to 750—up from 65 in 2009 under the leadership of Haywood—strive to remove barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes, seek enactment and enforcement of federal, state and local laws securing civil rights, educate people of their constitutional rights, and inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and seek its elimination. Current local initiatives include making affordable, quality health care, housing and education top priorities. “We always can do more to advance civil rights,” Gaskin notes. “And as a grassroots organization, we seek everyone’s help to grow our mission at local and national levels.”
ON THE COVER: (Top row) UAW Local 2250 president Van Simpson, Special Education Foundation executive director Diane Buhr, St. Louis Community Credit Union president and CEO Patrick Adams, Armstrong Teasdale partner Steven Cousins; (bottom row) Citi Bank director of community affairs Randall Weller, St. Louis County NAACP president Esther Haywood, NAACP national board member John Gaskin III, Judge Judy Draper, Missouri Supreme Court Judge George Draper III. For more information, call 389-1552 or visit stlcountynaacp.org.