NAACP banquet highlights race and the law

Dennis Rich

April 6, 2014

More work is needed to help black Americans overcome “structural inequalities” in the nation’s justice system.

That was the word Saturday afternoon from Nacente Seabury, a 2007 Smith-Cotton High School graduate and third-year law student at Washington University, who served as the keynote speaker for the Sedalia-Pettis County NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund Banquet at the State Fair Motor Inn. The event drew a sizable crowd of organization members, elected officials and members of the public and saw the group award two $500 scholarships and present awards of recognition to community members.

“I truly believe if we can come together as a voice, as a people we can affect the change in our own communities, our own states and, hopefully, one day society as a whole. We truly believe in equality for all, and we aren’t going to stand for these things that keep people down and keep these structural inequalities in place,” Seabury said.

Among those lingering issues, she said, are continued disparities in sentencing and incarceration rates that see blacks, who constitute 14 percent of U.S. drug users, accounting for 40 percent of U.S. drug arrests. Seabury said one in three black males “will go to jail at some point in their life,” and black women are three times more likely to receive a severe sentence when compared to other defendants.

Seabury also pointed to sentencing and perception issues, such as the difference between likely sentences for possession of powdered and crack cocaine.

She encouraged people, especially younger people, to become engaged and work through organizations like the NAACP to build alliances and challenge inequalities in a unified way.

“We have to address these things,” she said. “It starts with all of us.”

During the banquet, the group recognized Smith-Cotton High School seniors Steona Overton and Ta’Kayla Staten, who both received $500 dollar scholarships.

Seabury congratulated both young women on their awards and thanked the NAACP for a pair of scholarships awarded to her and her sister, Rashina, now studying medicine, in 2007.

The group also presented awards of recognition, including it’s “Person of the Year” award, which went to Jack Menges, executive director for Open Door. Also recognized were Pettis County Clerk Nick La Strada and NAACP member William Shobe.