Here’s a little secret: If you’ve never attended or thought about attending a NAACP affair, maybe you should re-consider. The West Side Branch brings out some of the best dressed men and women and some of our biggest names”locally, nationally, as well as from Hollywood’s “La-La Land.”

The committee members, Gwendolyn Burrell, Patricia Booker Easley, Mary Russell-Gardner, Carol Anne Harwell, Rashada Jamison, Phyllis Logan, Caroline Page, Steve Page, Renell Perry, Anita Walker, the got-the-hook-up-to-everyone chairman Karl A. Brinson, and President Vera Davis put together a night of fun, laughter and friendship.

It was certainly a West Side night for the honorees”even the two Hollywood celebrities, comedian Adele Givens and actor Steve Harris”both of whom are native Chicagoans who grew up on the West Side. Everyone honored comes from Austin.

Honorees and their award categories are:

• Humanitarian Award to Ms. Ertharin Cousin, executive vice president & CEO, America’s Second Harvest;

• Outstanding Entrepreneur Award to Don Jackson, founder, chairman & CEO, Central City Productions, Inc.;

• Outstanding Public Service Award to Honorable Barbara McGowan, commissioner, Water Reclamation Dist. of Greater Chicago;

• Outstanding Mass Communications Award to Art Porter, executive producer, WGCI, Crazy Howard McGee Show;

• Outstanding Community Development Award to Rev. Stephen Richardson, pastor, Jordan Temple Missionary Baptist Church;

• Nola Bright Community Service Award to Honorable Bobbie Steele, Cook County commissioner; and

• Champion Corporate Award to Charter One Bank, accepted by Allen A. Rodriguez, vice president and director of Illinois Community Affairs.

Accepting their awards, Ertharin Cousin said, “I am from the West Side and my mom still is on the West Side, and I’m also very proud because I look around this room, and I see 25 years of my life.”

When Don Jackson came to the podium, he said, “I’m a fan of the NAACP for being an initiator for many of the things that we in the private sector need an organization to do. Especially the industry I’m in, the media/television. The way the industry is going today, they’re getting away from family-friendly programming, especially African-American programming that is positive and can show some role models. So we’re hoping organizations [like] NAACP can help us in what’s needed to be done to make that industry realize that we are a factor, especially the Chicago market.” Bobbie Steele the recipient of the Nola Bright Award and also a Westsider said, “the NAACP needs to live on and we need to support it. The NAACP has helped to change the course of action in this country for African Americans in almost every state, and we need this organization. I’m humbled that this organization from the West Side is recognizing all the Westsiders. I’ve lived on the West Side all of my adult life … taught school for 26 years … longest serving African-American woman as an elected official. … I still live in the same house and married to the same man for 48 years.”

In introducing Rev. Richardson, President Davis said, “I don’t know if it’s true a cat has nine lives, but our next awardee has been blessed with more than one. He has a background in real estate and has built many affordable homes on the West Side. In the 1990s, Pastor Richardson had severe heart problems and had to have a pacemaker implanted. In 1996, he had a successful heart transplant.”

Richardson said, “I’m very honored that the NAACP has looked out among so many gifted and talented people on the West Side and given me this Community Development Award. The West Side to me is a treasure; it is a small spot on the earth that God has given us. I’ve been developing property for 25 years, and that’s much easier than it is to develop the mind of people, and trying to get young people to understand that the true treasure is not what we walk on, but the true treasure is what God has put inside of us.”

Commissioner Barbara McGowan said, “I lived on the West Side all of my life, in the same home for over 37 years. I have seen the neighborhood change. But I also learned that if we fight for the right changes, we will get those changes. We must continue to stay in the neighborhoods, we must continue to support the communities, and we must continue to fight for what we want to have in our community.”

President Davis explained to the audience, “If you wondered how funds are granted to community organizations by financial institutions, our last awardee can provide those answers because he is directly responsible for many of them.”

Allen Rodriguez said, “Charter One Bank is very honored. The West Side is very important to us. Our corporate headquarters just moved to downtown Chicago. The president said to me, ‘Allen, we want to move you downtown with us.’ I said, ‘Well, the entire community team is headquartered in the West Side. I think it’s more important that we make the statement, serving the community and giving back to the community where we live and work. I think it’s more important that we remain committed and stay on the West Side than moving me and my team downtown.’ So what do you think we did? We stayed on the West Side. We have to work and partner with Vera, one of those ladies, when she calls, there is no such thing as no. So we’re honored to work with her and particularly to support the initiative for African-American homeownership.”

Celebrities in the spotlight

Special guest Steve Harris and Adele Givens were both presented with Humanitarian Awards. Steve Harris is a veteran actor and is most recognizable for his portrayal of Eugene Young on the TV series The Practice. In addition to this year’s The Unseen, other credits include Bringing Down the House with Steve Martin and Queen Latifah, The Minority Report, and Diary of A Mad Black Woman.

Harris said, “There is a commonality about us being on the West Side. Their starts came from the West Side. So I want to be one of the ones to say it’s a privilege to be born and raised on the West Side. I appreciate everyone for coming out and recognizing the honorees who stuck around in the neighborhood to make the neighborhood come out better than when they got here.

“It’s good to be home. I am from 5024 W. Jackson. We didn’t have money, but we sure were happy. I want to thank Karl Brinson, who reached me in L.A., which isn’t easy to do, and I hopped my butt on the plane to get here and it’s really my pleasure. I knew Karl growing up. I thank Karl personally for thinking of me, even though you got Robert Townsend [last year’s guest] first. And I want to thank the NAACP for all they’ve done before me, during me and far after me.”

Steve’s mother, Mattie Harris, was presented a beautiful bouquet of flowers as she stood beaming proudly with her famous son.

Adele Givens made her professional stand-up comic debut on Feb. 3, 1990 at the Regal Theater in Chicago. Since that time she has been known as the “Queen of Comedy.” With such credits as Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam, The Bad Girls of Def Comedy Jam, and appearances on Oprah, her career is riding high. On May 27, you can catch her half-hour comedy special on Comedy Central.

Givens said, “I brought a speech because you know I’ve never been on television to accept an award, and I just wanted to look like I had accepted. I needed a piece of paper to remind me of what not to say. There are a few men of God, sisters and ushers in the house. I’m so grateful I came up on the West Side of Chicago, because had I not, I may not have been able to see some of the colors of some of the books we got. I never judge anybody, I’m always good to people, and in return people are always good to me. This is an honor for me.” Ms. Givens kept the audience laughing talking about her six sisters and one brother, and how, when she knocked her tooth out, she couldn’t go to the hospital. “We were so po’,” she said, “we couldn’t afford the ‘or.'”

The emcee was Myke Julius of V-103 FM. President Davis requested a moment of silence to acknowledge members Dwayne and Cata Truss, whose son was killed by a motor vehicle the day after graduating from Florida A&M University, one week ago.

The NAACP 2005 Freedom Fund Banquet lived up to its motto: “The race is still on … we’ve got the power.”