Honoree Mildred Whisenton, Business & Entertainment. Photos by Angela Truong.

The Long Beach branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) celebrated and honored Village Elders at the Grand Long Beach Events Center last Saturday.

NAACP is an inclusive organization, and one of the founding principles is that everyone can make a contribution regardless of race, belief, or color, to make our society better, according to the organization. The recognition is part of Long Beach Branch NAACP 2018 African American/Black History Month program. Those that were honored during the event included some who have passed away.

“We are celebrating Village Elders because they’re a valued treasure,” said Long Beach Branch NAACP President Naomi Rainey-Pierson. “It is said that children are our future. Our Village Elders are our past, present and they contribute to shaping our future.”

During a reception attended by NAACP members and honorees, their family members and other guests, Rainey-Pierson lightheartedly reminded everyone that the individuals being honored are beautiful even with their wrinkles and that elders are to be respected, valued, celebrated and included.

“We must sit at their feet on their couch, on their bed. Help them with their walker and listen to them because their contributions paved the way that allows us to be the great people and have the privileges that we have today,” said Rainey-Pierson

Honoree Charles Ussery, Public Service, Police Department.

Rainey-Pierson spoke about the Village Elders honored posthumously and introduced the Long Beach Branch NAACP interns that helped her put the program together. NAACP interns and Cal State Long Beach seniors Diana Romero and Shirley Valverde started collecting nominations back in November.

The foundation and purpose of the program is to show appreciation for the contributions and achievements of elders in the community, especially African Americans, as well as supporters of other races that helped promote the African American story.

Valverde said she always liked to be involved with the community, making changes and helping others out.

“It’s important to recognize people that made changes in the community,” said Romero. “It’s really cool how the community can come together and celebrate.”

The event included a musical performance while guests ate breakfast and the presentation of pendant necklaces to honorees who were announced by NAACP member and Press-Telegram Editor Rich Archbold.

Honoree Alta Cook, Secondary Education.

Some of the Village Elders’ honorees, former mayor Dr. Beverly O’Neill, Dr. Ruth Hayes of the Long Beach Community Improvement League, veteran William Ward and Alta Cooke for public education, gave a short speech about their background, how proud and honored they were after they accepted their award.

“Ann and I are proud to be a part of the village that has worked to realize the true promise of America, which we defined as achieving equality and justice for not just a few people but for all of our people,” said Village Elder Eugene Lentzner who is known for promoting civil rights.

NAACP consultant Dr. Alex Norman said the NAACP has always been a champion of civil and human rights and it is his honor to support them. He also feels honored to be recognized by his contributions.

“I think the first question we have to ask is, ‘How are the children?’ and if we know that the children are okay then the adults will be okay because children really are the future,” said Dr. Norman.


Dr. Norman is the NAACP consultant and is not a member, but he thought it was wonderful to be among the group because there’s so much history in it and that everybody has a story to tell.

The celebration ended with Village Elders taking an oath as part of the recognition for their contributions. Village Elders stood from their chairs and raised their hand to pledge in front of the guests.

“I believe it is important to promote diverse histories that make up our country,” Rainey-Pierson said in a statement. “This should happen not only during a certain month, but every opportunity we can.”

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