Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Honorees Are Heroes of Sarasota

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Honorees Are Heroes of Sarasota

Article excerpt

Will Brown is a personable young man with seemingly impeccable manners and a magnet of a smile.

Like any good son, he didn't give a second thought about driving from the northern reaches of Florida to be in Sarasota, his hometown, to see his mother.

This trip home Thursday wasn't about dropping off laundry or sitting down to a home-cooked meal. Will was in town because his mother was about to be feted by family, friends and strangers at the Hyatt Regency.

The theme of the Sarasota County Branch NAACP's 28th annual Freedom Awards Banquet was "The Dream Lives On: We Shall Not Be Moved." It's a fitting motif that encompasses a timeline of battles, from the slave era to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic impact to present day. The civil rights movement has created many positive changes, yet racism remains an issue of ongoing divisiveness in the United States.

Sheila E. Sanders, Will's mom, has lived this theme. And she wasn't going to be moved by explanations that made little sense.

Sarasota commissioners used to be elected at large, and Sanders and others wondered if blacks could ever get elected to local office in a voting system that ignored the nuanced importance of geography.

She mused to the crowd Thursday that, no matter the answer, how could two neighbors living in Bird Key accurately reflect all the interests of Sarasota, Especially for those living in Newtown?

The politics had to change. The city needed to change.

Sheila Sanders, Ed James II, John Rivers and the late William Fred Jackson are credited with filing the federal lawsuit that eventually changed how city commissioners were elected. That suit came in 1979. It took another eight years before Fredd Atkins became the first black elected to the City Commission.

There was much adoration for Sanders and other honorees at Thursday's banquet. Sanders received the Community Service Award because her activism has been felt by the Sarasota quality-of-life trinity -- church, schools and community.

Those who attended the gala event had to be moved by the genuine affection for community leaders who, while not necessarily grabbing front-page headlines, create purposeful results. …

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