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updated: 2/23/2012 11:10 AM

DuPage NAACP gala honors those who make a difference

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  • Cynthia Johnson

    Cynthia Johnson

  • La Toya Forrester

    La Toya Forrester

  • Dorletta Payton

    Dorletta Payton

  • Valerie Talton

    Valerie Talton


Cynthia Johnson says receiving a top honor from the DuPage County chapter of the NAACP is not just about the recognition.

She knows. On Saturday evening she's one of four people who will receive the Presidential Award at the group's 56th annual Freedom Fund and Scholarship Gala.

The Presidential Award means Johnson and three others have gone significantly above and beyond the call of duty in the past calendar year.

"It's great and all, but it's not what fuels our passion," said Johnson, the DuPage NAACP's second vice president, as well as chairwoman of the education committee. "So many members of the NAACP are passionate about developing the community and advocating for fairness and obtaining rights for people who are underserved. We're just passionate about it and not looking for awards and medals."

The gala acts as a way to honor many unsung heroes, such as Johnson, as well as a way to raise money and engage and inspire on behalf of the DuPage chapter of the NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. The evening begins at 6 p.m. with a cocktail hour, live entertainment and appetizers at the Wyndham Hotel, 3000 Warrenville Road, Lisle. Dinner begins at 7 p.m., followed by a program that will honor local NAACP champions. The evening concludes with music and dancing.

"It's open to anyone and everyone that cares about their community and cares about what's right and wants to be a part of making our community the best that it can be," said Mario L. Lambert II, the DuPage NAACP branch president. "It's certainly not a membership-only type of program. The people we are recognizing are very diverse."

This year's Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Wheaton resident Bernie Kleina, executive director of HOPE Fair Housing in Wheaton, an organization dedicated to equality in housing.

Three people will receive the Audley Award of Leadership Excellence: Thomasina Johnson of Naperville North High School; Clayton Muhammad of East Aurora Schools; and Terry Pastika of the Citizens Advocacy Center.

Receiving the President's Award are: Johnson, La Toya Forrester, Dorletta Payton and Valerie Talton.

The group also will bestow two monetary scholarships and three book scholarships.

A significant number of African-American and Hispanic community leaders will be in attendance, Johnson said.

"All of us are so busy and our activities take us in different directions, but at least at this gala we're able to come together," she said.

The black-tie event involves a lot of youth participation, including the emcee, 16-year-old Youth Council President Joseph E. Talton II.

"The goal is for people to leave that evening inspired to be part of the cause for civility," Lambert said. "We want to get more people engaged in the process to make this the best area it can be. It's not focusing on any one segment of people alone. It's about bringing all people together."

Tickets are $65 for adults and $30 for youth.

To purchase tickets, contact Jameena Ivory at or (630) 464-9411. For information, follow the DuPage County NAACP Branch on Twitter @dupagenaacp or visit

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