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NAACP, Raheem DeVaughn Take To The Shubert For ​“Freedom Fund” Return

New Haven Independent
New Haven Independent
 2022-05-15
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Maya McFadden Photos Raheem DeVaughn performs at Shubert.
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Freedom Fund 2022 honorees.

After a three-year hiatus, the annual Freedom Fundraiser held by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) returned full-force Thursday evening with a rhythmic and intimate remixed celebration at the Shubert Theater.

The NAACP had pulled back from in-person events to shift its resources and efforts to address community struggles exacerbated by the pandemic.

For its first in-person event in years, the NAACP celebrated the returned of its annual Freedom Fund gala with recognition awards for community leaders, student scholars, and a night of R&B from the singer and songwriter Raheem DeVaughn.

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Thursday VIP reception crowd.

A VIP Honorees Reception kicked off the celebration Thursday evening. Guest got dressed to impress for the reception on the second floor of the Shubert, where dinner was served buffet style.

Shubert Executive Director Anthony McDonald said the partnership with the NAACP represents the theater’s mission to diversify its programming, look, and ways to connect to the community. McDonald said his goal is to make the Shubert a relevant location for all New Haveners and to become the ​“best location to experience live entertainment in the state.”

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Student honorees Laila Smith, Kendra Hill, Arielle Jowers, and Jocelyn Ramirez.

Four high school students were recognized with 2022 scholarship awards. The honorees included Laila Smith, Kendra Hill, Arielle Jowers, and Jocelyn Ramirez, who each are academic and extracurricular leaders at their high schools and have passionate plans to attend Southern California University, Hampton University, Drexel University, and the University of Connecticut, respectively.

Smith is a senior at New Haven Academy and owns Lai Photography and Video LLC. Hill is a senior at Hamden Hall Country Day School and plans to own her own art therapy and counseling practice. Jowers, a senior at Hill Regional Career High School, plans to become an architectural engineer; she was honored by the National Council of Negro Women Inc. (NCNW) as the youth of theyear in 2021. Ramirez, who celebrated her birthday at the event, is a senior at Wilbur Cross and plans to pursue a career in dentistry.

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West Hill/West Rock support crew joins for honoree Smith.

During the reception, NAACP Youth Council President Alexis Smith and the Greater New Haven Branch President Dori Dumas highlighted the organization’s advocacy work: Covid testing and vaccine town halls for the community to talk with medical professionals, mask and rapid-test – kit distributions, financial literacy workshops, voter registration booths, food distributions, and cannabis license webinar series.

NAACP Secretary Miriam James encouraged guests to become lifetime members of the NAACP to ​“fight forward together.”

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The Excellence in Health and Leadership Award was given to Keith B. Churchwell, the president of Yale New Haven Health Hospital and executive vice president of the Yale New Haven Health System.

The President’s Award was given to New Haven native and activist Scot X. Esdaile.

The Leadership Award was given to Shenae Draughn, the executive vice-president of Elm City Communities and the Glendower Group.

The Community Service Award was given to West Hill/West Rock Alder Honda Smith.

The Arts and Culture Award was given to the International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

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Attendees Sheree Baldwin-Muhammad, Finn Wiggins-Henry, Zanaiya Leon.

Assistant Director for the Office of Inclusion and Diversity at the Yale School of Management Zanaiya Leon joined the honoree reception and concert to support Churchwell and the concert’s opening act, Johnathan Moore.

Leon, who is also an artist manager, has been to the Freedom Fund event in the past and was excited about the addition of the concert portion this year.

“It’s lovely to see the community uplifting the community,” she said.

Bridgeport kindergarten teacher, artist, and author Sheree Baldwin-Muhammad joined the Thursday event to support the recognition of the local leaders.

She said the Thursday event not only gave her a chance to get dressed up but also gave the opportunity for the community to come together.

“We need more celebrations like this,” she said. ​“To connect. To give thanks. To be together.”

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After the award ceremony, 100 guests flowed into the theater for the 8 p.m. concert.

Johnathan Moore, a New Haven native and electric cellist, played two pieces. The first was alongside his brother Trey Moore. who played the piano. The duo played over a recording of Maya Angelou’s ​“Still I Rise” poem.

The night concluded with a dedication to love from DeVaughn, who serenaded the crowd with a microphone stand decked with roses.

Backed by a band of four playing electric guitar, piano, bass guitar, and drums, DeVaughn also came prepared with a vase full of two dozen roses, which he showered on guests in the front rows throughout the show.

The crowd clapped and sang along with DeVaughn to his hits like ​“Woman” and ​“Mr. Midnight.”

He occasionally took brief breaks from his music to also relish in t R&B music from the ​’70s, ​’80s, and ​’90s.

Before ending the show, DeVaughn promised the crowd that he’ll continue supporting community nonprofits and creating love songs that are ​“good for the soul.”

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