The theme of this year’s Westside Branch NAACP banquet, held Saturday at the Holiday Inn Hillside, was “The Conscience of a Nation,” selected as President Vera Davis put it “because the NAACP continues to be the voice that speaks out for the equality of all.”

All the attendees could have been candidates for “best dressed” people in Chicago. Banquet chairperson Karl A. Brinson, his committee, and Davis created a memorable evening.

Mistress and master of ceremonies were Dorothy Tucker, CBS-2 TV, and Myke Julius, V103 Radio, both of whom kept the audience entertained. Ms. Tucker was happy to show off one of her favorite Barbara Bates outfits, a gray two-piece that she called, “one of my most favorite outfits.” In fact, a style show featuring Westsider Bates collections was one of the evening’s highlights. Ms. Bates also donated a $1,200 designer coat, which was raffled off and won by Debra Kern. Bates is a world renowned fashion designer and has outfitted numerous celebrities including Sinbad, Michael Jordan, Whitney Houston and Mike Tyson. She delivered an emotional speech about growing up on the West Side and subsequently starting her Bates Foundation in 1999, which provides prom dresses to underprivileged or hard-to-fit young women from the inner-city schools in Chicago.

This year the Westside NAACP Branch honored some of the West Side’s outstanding and hard-working individuals. The Community Service Award went to Richard L. Barnett, who has been one of the West Side’s most active and influential political activists for many years. If you need a political strategist, no matter what side of town you live on, then Barnett is known as one of the “go to” individuals. His political activism has taken him beyond the West Side to the rest of Chicago, the state of Illinois, and beyond. He has taught political education at the college level, as well as numerous other organizations. Barnett was born in Chicago on March 27, 1931. He married his wife, Grace, in 1950 and has resided in North Lawndale since 1954. Richard and his wife have three children.

The Entrepreneur Award went to Malcolm Crawford, longtime community activist and founder of the Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA). Crawford’s community work began early. As a student at Dunbar Career Academy, he got involved with FAITH, Inc. the West Side organization headed by his father, Rev. J.H. Crawford, Jr., which advocates for ex-offenders. Malcolm attended Malcolm X and Wilbur Wright colleges. While working at API Industries, a Ford subsidiary in Elk Grove Village, Crawford purchased and rehabbed his first home. He began remodeling homes for friends, and his success led to his own general contracting company. Malcolm and his wife of 10 years, Stacia, are the owners of African Accents at 5847 W. Chicago Ave. Malcolm serves on the board of the Austin Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Garfield Chamber. He writes a business column in the Austin Weekly News and Malcolm and his wife have three sons.

The Humanitarian Award went to Camille Lilly, a life-long resident of Chicago’s West Side, who has long been active in the Austin and West Garfield communities. Ms. Lilly is vice president of External Affairs & Development at Loretto Hospital, where she keeps the hospital connected to the community by involving residents and leaders in the process of identifying the community’s health care needs. Lilly has been the recipient of many awards for her outstanding leadership. On the West Side, Lilly is someone “you should know.” One of five children born to Mr. & Mrs. Leroy Lilly, she attended St. Mel Elementary School and graduated from Oak Park and River Forest High School. She received her Bachelor of Science degree from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa and her Master of Science from Oklahoma University. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority and Delta Sigma Pi. Her motto is: “What you put into something is what you get out of it.”

The Nola Bright Community Service Award went to Ronald Lofton, who has been involved in West Side community activities for over 10 years. He has owned and operated McDonald’s restaurants in four West Side locations and at O’Hare Airport. Mr. Lofton has a long list of achievements and contributions to West Side schools, churches and non-profit organizations. He has received numerous awards and honors and reminded people that his success comes from help of his partner in business and in life, his wife Lillian. Mr. Lofton was born in Erie, Penn., where he was one of 16 children reared by his grandparents, Bessie and Grady Lofton. He graduated in the top fifth of his high school class and received his B.A. degree from Clarion State University. Lofton married his high school sweetheart, and they have one son, Ronald Lofton, Jr. and one grandson.

The Community Development Award went to Donzell and Alisa Starks, a husband-and-wife team who have brought Hollywood into the minority neighborhoods in Chicago. Mrs. Starks, a marketing specialist, and Mr. Starks, an investment banker, have brought back movie theaters to predominantly African-American communities.

In addition to owning theaters, the Starks also own commercial property at 79th & Halsted and a marketing consulting company. Both have been active in numerous civic and cultural activities, and serve on various boards such as Monte Dance Theatre of Chicago, and Hales Franciscan High School Support Group. Mr. Starks graduated from Western Illinois University, where he received dual degrees in Finance and Business Administration, and the Illinois Institute of Technology. Mrs. Starks earned a B.A. and Master of Science from Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. The Starks have one son, Ahmad.

The Mass Communication Award went to Abe Thompson, who was born in Chicago on Nov. 22, 1951, one of seven children. After graduating from Calumet High School, he attended Carthage College and transferred to Western Illinois University from which he graduated in 1974. In 1975, he joined the staff of WVON Radio. In 1980, he became the sales manager for WGCI Radio. While at WCGI in 1984, he became vice-president and station manager, and met and married his (late) wife Launa. Abe’s accomplishments are too numerous to name, and he has the reputation of being one of “nicest” guys around town. In 1999, Thompson became president and CEO of Partnership Radio, a group of radio stations in Northwest Indiana. In 2000, he published his first book, My Thoughts, Your Book, Our Journal, for his son Phoenix. In 2003, Radio Ink ranked Thompson as one of the 30 most influential African Americans in radio. Thompson’s wife passed away in 2004.

The evening concluded with a beautiful aria by young Mitti Cowan of Lincoln Park High School. Benediction was given by Pastor Wardell Newsome of Faith Community MB Church.