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Hope for the future

Sellers speaks at annual NAACP Freedom Fund banquet

Posted: May 7, 2015 5:27 p.m.
Updated: May 8, 2015 1:00 a.m.
Gary Phillips/C-I

Former State Rep. Bakari Sellers, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2014, speaks during the 29th annual Camden-Kershaw County NAACP Branch’s Freedom Fund banquet May 2 at Bethesda Church Family Life Center in Lugoff. Sellers spoke on a theme of hope despite a majority of Americans not trusting “anybody,” especially those in power.

The Camden-Kershaw County Branch of the NAACP held its 29th annual Freedom Fund banquet May 2 at Bethlehem Church Family Life Center in Lugoff.

Former State Rep. Bakari Sellers, a 2014 candidate for lieutenant governor, served as the evening’s featured speaker. His theme: hope is an idea and driving force keeping mankind moving forward.

“As South Carolinians, as Americans, we’re suckers for hope,” Sellers said. “At our core, we are wildly optimistic and when you think about it, it makes sense. After all, we are a nation of immigrants and the courage it takes to leave your home and everything you’ve ever known to get on a ship and set out for a completely foreign land that you know next to nothing about, you don’t know anyone and in most cases you don’t even speak the language, the courage to take that step can only be found in hope.

“The faith in things unseen is a fundamental belief that a better life is right there just over the horizon. Fundamentally, that is who we are. It’s even in our state motto, ‘dum spiro spero’ -- while I breathe, I hope.”

Sellers said hope is becoming harder to come by and is becoming replaced with negative thoughts and feelings such as anger, frustration and bitterness.

“A growing majority of our citizenry don’t trust anybody, and why should they? Their government is gridlocked by political gamesmanship and radical ideologies. Their news media is focused almost entirely on the most sensational stories they can find, and then they get them wrong,” Sellers said. “They read about growing bank profits and corporate dividends while they struggle to make ends meet and the only time they see a police officer is when a friend or family member is getting arrested and the only time they see their leaders is when they’re asking for their vote. Of course they’re frustrated.”

Sellers said the income gap in the United States is currently the greatest it has been since The Great Depression. In South Carolina, he said, the average annual income for the top 1 percent of the population is $725,000, while the average income of the other 99 percent is $35,000.

“The average South Carolinian can’t afford to buy a home, even with a 30-year mortgage and down payment assistance. A person making minimum wage has to work two full-time jobs just to afford the average single-bedroom apartment,” Sellers said. “Right now, 200,000 of our working men and women in South Carolina are earning less than 100 percent of the federal poverty level and they have no access to healthcare because our state refuses to expand Medicaid. Right now, a mother of two can’t join her husband in the workforce because her salary won’t even cover the cost of child care.”

Sellers said education is the cornerstone of the ability to rise out of poverty, but South Carolina’s education system is seriously lacking. He said he still has hope, however, people need to realize and understand problems before they can be solved.

“If we can subsidize Boeing to the tune of $750 million, then surely we can do something to help the single mother making $7.25 an hour. Surely, we can raise teacher’s salaries above the lowest in the nation. Surely, we can invest in a 21st century transportation and information infrastructure. Let’s be honest. Increasing school funding by a few hundred thousand dollars or even a million isn’t going to fix our schools. You can’t just keep pouring money into a broken problem,” Sellers said. “It’s going to take billions, and even more than the big spending, it’s going to take bigger ideas.”

Again, Sellers said he still believes in hope, but solutions will take group cooperation and a common vision for the future.

“While others trudge through the troubled waters of the past, we have to build a bridge to the future,” Sellers said. “I can’t promise it will be easy. It actually never is, but one of my heroes is Frederick Douglas and he said ‘if there is no struggle, there is no progress.’”

Also during the event, the NAACP presented Rev. Augustus Rodgers a lifetime membership.

“This plaque certifies that Reverend Augustus Rogers has a life membership in the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People and we want to commend you for your achievement,” Isaac Peay II said while making the presentation.

Local NAACP chapter President Sammie Tucker Jr. thanked Sellers and all in attendance and said he welcomes younger members into the organization.

“As we get older, we don’t think the same. The problems aren’t the same for them as they were for us,” Tucker said.

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