Bahai News - NAACP awards cut across racial lines
Saturday, February 26, 2000
NAACP awards cut across racial lines
PEOPLE: The Orange County chapter's Citizens of Distinction will be
By TOM BERG
The Orange County Register
SANTA ANA You teach for 16 years, you notice a few things.
Mae E. Ussery noticed this: A number of her Asian immigrant students
at Valley High School in Santa Ana were struggling with the language as
freshmen, then graduating with honors.
How? They took tutoring on Saturdays.
Ussery, an English and social sciences teacher, came up with her own
tutoring program. In little more than a year, it's helped more than 50
students mostly black and Hispanic. For her efforts, Ussery will
be honored tonight at the 10th annual Citizens of Distinction Awards put
on by the Orange County branch of the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People.
More than 250 people are expected to attend tonight's sold-out
banquet at the Orange County Airport Holiday Inn.
The awards honor citizens who've helped make Orange County a better
place to live. For years, they've been bestowed upon blacks. But that is
changing. In 1998, the local chapter honored the Anaheim Lions Club,
which had helped a Jamaican woman whose face had been splashed with
This year, winners are even more diverse. They include members of the
Irvine Baha'i Assembly, and two Hispanic women involved with community
"Although we all know what the initials NAACP stand for, we are
actually community based," said Willie Mae Hunt, president of the local
chapter. "We serve the community, and the community is
Orange County is home to about 44,000 blacks or 1.5 percent of
the county's 2.8 million populace according to projections by the
state Department of Finance.
That percentage has dipped slightly since 1990, but local NAACP
membership has soared. A group that was barely 100 strong a decade ago
now stands at 700 members.
Under Hunt's presidency, the group is seeking partnerships with other
minorities and cultural groups.
Hunt often can be found at breakfasts of the League of United Latin
American Citizens or sitting on boards for the Sheriff's Department and
Garden Grove Police Department.
"By putting yourself out there and involving yourself, you become a
part of the community," she said. "You begin to understand each other's
Tonight's winners include Tina Fernandez, who grew up in Irvine where
her parents were farm workers. Fernandez created a dispute resolution
program with the Orange County Human Relations Commission after helping
a waitress who was cheated out of $20,000 in overtime pay. The program
now serves about 1,000 people annually, often Hispanics.
"When the person called and told me I was selected, I said, 'I'm not
African-American,' " Fernandez said. "He said, 'I think they're doing
things differently.' So that's even more of an honor that a
community may not have benefited directly from my work, but they felt it
was serving the county as a whole."
The Rev. Larry Weaver of the Friendship Baptist Church of Yorba Linda
felt humbled by the award, but noted it felt good to be recognized
He started a food-and-clothing distribution center at the church,
then launched a successful marriage ministry.
"Many times you can work very hard at things and feel unrecognized,
but you don't let that discourage you," he said. "You just go on,
knowing you're not doing it for yourself and recognition. You do it
because there's so much need in the community."
©Copyright 2000, The Orange County Register
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