More than half a century ago on Feb. 7, 1971, the local branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — more commonly known as the NAACP — officially organized during a Sunday afternoon meeting at the First United Methodist Church in Corvallis.
An Oregon State University graduate student named Calvin O. Henry, who had worked hard to establish the branch in Corvallis, was chosen as its first president. The NAACP’s national board of directors had given its stamp of approval to Branch 1118’s charter the previous month on Jan. 11.
Fifty years later, the Corvallis-Albany Branch continues to work and serve in the region’s communities and will host a special event from 2-5 p.m. Sunday at Philomath City Park’s Shelter 2. Jason Dorsette, who was installed as branch president this past January, will be on hand along with members and local dignitaries. Anyone in Philomath or neighboring communities are invited to attend.
“It’s really an informal way for us to specifically connect with individuals — members and nonmembers — who live in Philomath but to also bring the community together with folk who live in that area,” Dorsette said during a Friday morning phone interview.
Dorsette stressed that the event will occur rain or shine. Philomath City Park is located at 231 S. 23rd St.
For those not familiar with the organization, the NAACP’s mission is to “secure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.”
The Philomath event will represent the second in a series of community appearances by the local NAACP branch. Dorsette said the first one, held in Albany, was a huge success.
“The Albany mayor was there for that one and I think the police chief in Albany, a lot of county commissioners, school board members,” Dorsette said. “It’s really an awesome time to not only connect with me but to also connect with our elected officials. It serves as a three-pronged type of engagement.”
After Philomath, the organization is planning in the future to make its way to Lebanon.
“We sort of cover a lot of area, so inclusive of all of the towns and cities within Linn and Benton counties and even parts of Lincoln,” Dorsette said. “So we have a really sort of broad reach, if you will, and what our members have been saying and our communities have been saying for a long time is, ‘hey, can you come to my city? Can you set up shop where we are?’”
Dorsette said that as much as he would like to meet everybody and check out all of the issues happening across Linn and Benton counties, he can’t because of time constraints. But the community events help fill that gap.
“This is a very informal way for me as the president to meet people and hear concerns, hear suggestions as to how the NAACP can better support the different cities and towns,” he said. “We’ve not ever had a meeting in Philomath but we have quite a few Philomath members so we’re just trying to be inclusive and welcoming to everyone.”
Dorsette described the past several months as being difficult although the organization has seen an uptick in participation and people have been joining Zoom meetings. But nothing replaces the interaction that can take place when people are together in person.
“We are an organization that really thrives when we’re physically in community together — just given the nature of the work that we do around social justice and social change,” Dorsette said.
Philomath Mayor Chas Jones was among those who attended the first event in Albany.
“The mayor and I are really good friends, so we connected,” Dorsette said. “We want to hear from our mayor there and we want to let folk know they have support both in the city of Philomath as well as the local NAACP to address any issues with inequity, poverty, racism.”
Jones will be flipping burgers and grilling hot dogs for the event.
“Everybody’s welcome to come and things will be available until they’re not,” Jones said in reference to the food. “But we encourage everyone to come and participate and celebrate the diversity that our community has to offer.”
Among the activities, Philomath Fire & Rescue plans to bring emergency response vehicles for the kids (and adults) to enjoy.
“It’s just a way for members and nonmembers to kind of connect physically with me, with other executive members, and just hear how we can better support the residents in Philomath, specifically around diversity issues,” Dorsette said. “We’re just going to be out there answering questions, having fun, really low risk, just informal time together. Rain or shine, we’ll be there.”
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