OLDMANS TWP. -- Racism remains a problem in America, but there is something even worse.
"It is not racism that is the most evil and catastrophic and most damaging force that has plagued America," keynote speaker Larry M. Morris told those attending the Salem County Branch of the NAACP's annual Freedom Fund Banquet Saturday.
It is "the acceptance (of racism) and the silence of good people who know better, but who enjoyed the privilege that it brings and the convenience that came with it."
He calls it "convenient neutrality" -- people who, behind closed doors, agree that racism must be stamped out, but in public do nothing to stop it.
Morris said from the time African-Americans were first brought to the Colonies as slaves "there were many, many people who thought it was wrong but for all intent and purposes, kept silent," Morris said.
Throughout the centuries African-Americans were promised that if they were just patient, freedom and equality would come. They have been told to appreciate what they have, according to Morris.
"The story of people of color in America should be some of the most proud stories told of enduring strength and perseverance," said Morris. "Yet in 2015 there are still too many stories of African-Americans being treated with disrespect and indignation."
He said President Barack Obama is an example.
"The attack on our president is not because he was born in Hawaii or because he is a Democrat or because his name is different. This particular attack on this particular president is because he is black ...," Morris said.
Morris said those who know racism is wrong, but do nothing about it, are basically accepting it and could be, in some way, held accountable for it.
Morris said we are better than that. Through coalitions, change can continue in America.
He emphasized the importance of setting the right example for children and holding schools and politicians accountable.
"If we are going to turn the corner in America. It is going to be as a result of coalitions being formed and relationships built and renewed," Morris said. "We are all in this together."
Morris is director of constituent services for U.S. Rep. John Carney, (D-Delaware). He also served on Carney's staff when Carney was Delaware's lieutenant governor.
He noted how growing up in Bridgeton he saw firsthand how people of different races could live as trusted friends. Morris' family and the Facemyer family formed a bond that some five decades later remains strong, Morris said.
Honorees at the banquet were each selected for the impact they are making on their community.
They included Rev. Anthony Rocco, Religious Service Award; Carneys Point Police Chief Gerald Krivda, Law and Public Safety Award; Loray Greene, Community Service Award; and Dennis Thomas Sr., Education Award.
Rocco is pastor of Spirit Life Fellowship Church in Salem which operates the Oasis Soup Kitchen.
Krivda is a county native. He joined the Carneys Point Police Department in 1997 and rose through the ranks, being named chief in March 2014.
Greene is the "first lady" of Salem's Mt. Hope United Methodist Church in Salem, the wife of pastor Pastor Leonard Greene. Her active role in the church and community touches many lives.
Thomas is a Salem High School and Rutgers University graduate. He now teaches at Salem High School and head football coach where he is a role model for students at the school.
The NAACP also recognized to leaders of the future.
Local "rising stars" were Christian Brown, a senior at Woodstown High School, and Tiasia Tatem, a senior at Salem High School.
Salem County Prosecutor John T. Lenahan presented the Salem County Human Relations Advisory Board's unsung hero award to Stephen Bagwell of Penns Grove. Lenahan said the award goes to a person who "on a daily basis quietly makes a difference in their community."
Lamar Bagwell accepted the award on behalf of his father.
Local NAACP President Ken Braxton reminded those attending that new members are always being sought to join the local branch. The group meets the fourth Monday of each month at Mt. ion Baptist Church, Grieves Parkway, Salem.
Proceeds from ticket sales at the banquet go toward student scholarships.
For information on the Salem County NAACP, contact Braxton at 856-769-1575.