For the first time in its 75 year history, the NAACP of Columbus is a recipient of the national civil rights organization’s top award for outstanding achievement.
The local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was among 16 recipients of the Thalheimer Award during the NAACP’s 106th National Convention held last week in Philadelphia, Penn. The national organization presented the award to the Columbus NAACP in recognition of its activities and publication in local media, according to Tonza Thomas, president of the local branch.
Thomas, 41, said she considered it an honor to share the stage with civil rights pioneers who also accepted the award on behalf of their branches. The list included Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference, and the Rev. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference and architect of the Moral Monday Movement that has spread throughout the nation.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch gave the keynote address for the occasion.
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“It’s actually the first (Thalheimer Award) our branch has ever received and it’s pretty exciting because we were the only branch from Georgia to receive one,” said Thomas, who was elected president of the local branch in November. “I look at myself as being one of the little peons on the stage with folks who received outstanding recognition for the service and the work they’ve been doing over the past 20 years with the association. And here I am coming in a newbie and being placed on that same stage.”
The Thalheimer Award is the NAACP’s top award given to branches and units for outstanding achievement, according to a release issued by the national organization. It has been given annually since 1944 through a grant from Dr. Ross Thalheimer, a Johns Hopkins University instructor in philosophy and a University of Washington instructor in philosophy and sociology. He was also president of the Thalheimer Foundation Inc.
Ed DuBose, a national board member and former president of the Columbus branch, said Columbus should be proud of the recognition.
“It’s a reflection of President Thomas’ leadership. It’s a reflection of the team energy, and it’s a reflection of the community support,” he said. “It’s good to hear your city, your county, called out among some of the others, especially given that it was the only award of its kind given out in Georgia, period.”
Thomas said she began submitting information about branch activities to the national office since last year when she served as chair of the branch’s young adult committee, which focused on ban the box and police/community interaction issues. Since becoming president, she has kept the branch visible in the community with social justice activities. In addition to winning the top award, the branch also won third place in Class II for Publication due to media coverage resulting from NAACP activities, Thomas said.
She said several of the branch’s young adult members also attended the convention and they represent the organization’s new direction.
“We’re trying to make sure that we grow new leaders,” she said. “As I just turned 41 a couple of weeks ago, I plan on making my legacy be about bringing young people into this work.”
Alva James-Johnson, 706-571-8521. Reach her on Facebook at AlvaJamesJohnsonLedger.