The Roanoke Branch NAACP held its 61st Life Membership Luncheon and Freedom Fund-raiser Saturday, Dec 3 at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center.
Included among the several hundred in attendance was a contingent of various local and state officials. The annual affair has a history of great attendance and this year was no exception as the impressive turnout was most likely due to the guest speaker being John W. Boyd, Jr.
To hear him tell it, he is “just a farmer on a mission,” but this modern-day civil rights activist with an amazing list of accomplishments is founder and president of the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA).
In 1996, a year after he established it, the organization under Boyd’s leadership, launched a campaign and ultimately filed suit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) citing decades of systematic racial discrimination against Black farmers. After years of research, several elaborate protests–including a march on the White House, much lobbying, various appearances before Congress and support from President Barack Obama, the organization celebrated a huge victory. On October 27, 2011 a federal judge approved a $1.25 billion settlement that cleared the way for financial compensation to thousands of the nation’s Black farmers.
During an impassioned speech at the luncheon Boyd informed the crowd of some of the many hardships faced by Black farmers citing, among several factors, the difficulty for Black farmers to obtain credit and their uphill battle to be included in the US farm subsidy program which gives farmers extra money for their crops as supplemental income.
Also among the many issues Boyd addressed was how people take today’s farmers for granted and how blacks (particularly the younger generation) fail to understand the value of land ownership. “When daddy died we had to go sell the farm,” he paraphrased and said, “you don’t have to sell the farm–hold on to the family land because the land holds your history,” he boldly exclaimed to a chorus of amens from the crowd.
Because of his interest in educating the youth, Boyd visited Roanoke’s Lucy Addison Middle School during his visit to the area where he and Brenda Hale, local NAACP president, toured the immaculate and modern facility. A section of the school’s band, directed by John Wright, performed a few selections prior to a short but motivational message extended to a large gathering of the school’s 6th graders.
“In success there’s no room for mediocracy,” Boyd stated and further encouraged them to “apply yourself to the fullest… and strive for excellence in whatever field you pursue.”
After delivering his motivational message to the students Boyd and his entourage gathered in the Miss Lucy Addison room for a photo session where he met 14-year-old Miss Elijah Webb, an eighth grader who posed a few questions while the cameras rolled. “Strive for excellence because what you do in the classroom reflects what you’ll do in the real world,” he responded to Webb providing the perfect summation of the message he delivered earlier to the student body. The Addison cheerleading squad also treated Boyd to a special performance of two cheers in his honor.
History will prove that this fourth-generation farmer from Baskerville, Va. who considers himself “just a farmer on a mission” is anything but. The truth is, John W. Boyd, Jr. is a soldier and a gentle giant who tirelessly continues his journey as global advocate for justice in the most classic sense.