Tia Braswell speaks the Black national Anthem during the 2019 UGA NAACP Image Awards at Memorial Hall Ballroom in Athens, Georgia, on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Photo/Rebecca Wright)

From the steps leading up to the Memorial Hall Ballroom, one could hear voices and laughter drifting through the air. Students, faculty and colleagues, dressed for the most part in all black, filled the room and denoted a grand affair.

The 2019 Image Awards hosted by the University of Georgia chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored people occurred Thursday, April 18. The organization brought Tracey D. Ford, a UGA graduate and a member of the senior leadership team at Tennessee State University.

The night focused on the importance of community between black students on the campus while recognizing the importance of effective activism. The late rapper Nipsey Hussle was referenced throughout the night as an example of this activism.

“This event is just an opportunity for us to make sure that [other organizations and individuals get the recognition they deserve],” said Hannah Woodward, a sophomore applied biotechnology major from Kennesaw, Georgia. Woodward was announced as the Vice President of the NAACP for the upcoming school year.

Before the official awards ceremony, different acts promoting black excellence graced the stage. Ashley Crooks Allen delivered a powerful spoken word act that left the room standing, the air charged with energy as the audience clapped, moments after the room sang the National Black Anthem.

An intermission with dinner catered by Weaver D’s of fried chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, mac and cheese and dessert left the room in high spirits, ready for the keynote speaker.

The honored guest, Ford, spoke on difficult subjects with an air of familiarity that promoted discussion and calmness while showcasing the harsh realities of the past.

Ford expanded on her experiences at UGA, stating how when she first enrolled in the university she was one of two black students. This realization prompted her to transfer schools, which led her to ultimately graduate with her Bachelor’s degree from Norfolk State University.

Soon enough, however, Ford found herself re-telling a similar story with her doctorate studies.

Once again,Ford found herself one of two black students in her class. Instead of transferring schools, however, she persevered through her studies.

“Your calling makes the choice for you,” said Ford to vehement nods and sounds of agreement from the audience. “Those who believe in freedom cannot rest.”

The tone was set for the rest of the evening. Through stories of her own activism and academic achievement, Ford expressed the prowess of the UGA chapter of the NAACP, stating how the group had even been awarded best collegiate chapter in 2007 and was truly a vehicle for change on this campus.

While Ford commended NAACP for all the work they had achieved over the past year, she also reminded students that the ultimate act of activism is graduating from this institution.

“Marching in the streets is all well and good,”Ford said., “ … but there does come a time where you have to pass that organic chemistry test.”

Shortly after Ford wrapped up her speech, the stage was quickly transformed for a dance performance by Nkenge Mitchell, her movements accompanied by J. Cole’s “Happy.”

Immediately following the artistic spot, awards began to be announced. The NAACP recognized individuals, staff and faculty, and organizations both on campus and in the community that had impacted the standing of minority groups in a significant way.

Each winner proudly showcased their glass award to loud cheers from the audience. While the room might have been filled with dozens of people, filling the ballroom, it was evident that everyone knew and supported each other.

In total, 12 awards were won.

Immediately following the awards presentation, the new executive board for the UGA chapter of the NAACP was announced.

Wesley Tillman, a sophomore intended marketing major from Columbus, Georgia and newly inaugurated president, said the final remarks for the evening.

“Here is where I learned that being black and excellent are not oxymorons,” Tillman said. “Here is where I learned that being angry towards injustice and protesting is one thing, but being involved in legislation and knowing that it’s the representation in our government that brings institutional change, is another thing.”

The NAACP at UGA has progressed and been an advocate for change for minority groups throughout campus. Individuals and organizations both have helped with this mission and were recognized for it on stage.

In the upcoming year, however, there may be big changes and opportunities on the horizon for this organization. The new executive board will still hold office for the 2020 presidential election, and with many names being thrown in the race, it will be interesting to see what impact, if any, this collegiate chapter of the NAACP can make on the surrounding Athens community, and potentially the nation, as a whole.

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