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 honored tonight.

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 acid.

This year, winners are even more diverse. They include members of the Irvine Baha'i Assembly, and two Hispanic women involved with community service.

"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 multicultural."

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 cultures."

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 too.

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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