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State Senator urges Fayette NAACP to support 'Occupy' movement

State Sen. Vincent Hughes of the 7th senatorial district in Philadelphia urged members of the Fayette County Branch of NAACP to "get organized and speak up" to fight unemployment and state and federal budget cutbacks.

At the 22nd annual Human Rights Dinner held at the Youghiogheny Western Baptist Association's Headquarters and Christian Center near Uniontown, Hughes gave a keynote speech.

Hughes stressed the importance of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which he said began in New York City and is spreading across the nation and around the world.

"The movement is taking place to fight the imbalance that currently exists between the rich and the poor," Hughes said.

"People are struggling to make ends meet," he added. "The wage of an average American is less than it was 10 years ago. Wages are going down, but health insurance costs are going up for individuals. This has to stop."

Hughes said the problem has occurred because a few people are making all of the decisions and the rest are being eliminated from the process.

Hughes said he is worried about the 60 million Americans who have no health insurance.

"If we wouldn't have had billions of dollars coming from Washington, D.C., the job losses would have quadrupled," he said. "There would be 45 children in each classroom, and our athletic programs in our schools would have been shut down."

Because of state budget cutbacks, Hughes said, the cost of a college education increased by about 19 percent at Penn State, Pitt and Temple.

"Only the very rich can afford to go to college," Hughes said. "Students are getting out of college, and they owe $80,000 to $120,000 in student loans. It's taking college graduates a year or 18 months to find a job. You thought you got your kids out of the house, and they are moving back in because they can't find jobs."

Hughes said NAACP members need to work with community members in an effort to resolve the serious issues facing America.

"We have to embrace these young people to make them see that their future is at stake and so is ours," he said. "One organization that can help turn things around is the NAACP. The fight is here, and we're all in this together."

Award winners

At the dinner, Gwendolyn Ridgley, president of the Fayette County branch of the NAACP, presented the following awards:

• Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Charles Machesky, superintendent of the Uniontown Area School District.

• Community Service Award to Blanche Madison of the Jubilee Soup Kitchen.

• NAACP Unit Service Award to Jacqueline Fritts, executive director of the Crime Victims' Center.

Machesky, who plans to retire from his superintendent's position at the end of this year, said he rushed home from Boston because he was so humbled to receive the award.

"Today is a very important day in the civil rights movement because the monument to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was unveiled in Washington, D.C.," Machesky said. "He advocated each of us to do his part. I want to thank Dr. King for his movement."

Madison, who could not attend the dinner, took on the responsibility of feeding the needy of the community with her husband, the late Rev. Clifford Madison, in November 1994.

The couple worked as a team. Blanche prepared the food and her husband served it. The Rev. Madison also took the time to minister by offering prayer and counseling to anyone who needed it.

Despite a fire that damaged the original building, the ministry continued its operation. After the fire, the Jubilee Soup Kitchen moved to its present location on East Fayette Street.

With the assistance of her son, Clifford Madison Jr., Blanche continues to prepare and offer home-cooked meals to anyone in need.

Ridgley said the NAACP Unit Service Award was given to Fritts for appreciation of her organization and commitment to helping people, providing services and conducting outreach in the community.

"I know you (Jacquie) don't think you were deserving of this award, but we did," Ridgley said.

"I'm so humbled by this award," Fritts later said. "I learned so much about human rights by being part of this organization. I have taken what I learned and applied it to my job."

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