Donna Reese: a champion

Honored with the civil liberties Kharas award:

June 4 Donna Reese was center stage, and this time in the limelight. Reese, a Syracuse community activist, received the Kharas award from the Central New York Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union. This award is given to people in central New York who put themselves on the line for civil liberties, Director Barrie Gewanter said.

Reese, 46, served as Syracuse/Onondaga County chapter president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1999 to 2002. According to Reese, she has worked for the past 10 years to pass a law mandating immediate federal investigation of all police misconduct charges. Her proposed legislation would also provide uniform standards for training in police codes of conduct. Named for Jonny Gammage, the law has not been passed, but Reese said she doesn't believe the fight is over.

"We need to take it up again," she said.

She spoke out and made a courageous stand, said Gewanter.

Reese also worked for the creation of the Pan-African Village at the New York State Fair.

"Diversity makes good business sense," she said.

In the beginning

Reese responded to a newspaper ad in 1993 to answer phones for the local NAACP. After her nephew was found murdered that year, apathy in her community forced her to take a long look at herself, she said.

"I can't sit back and blame other people for not getting involved when I'm not getting involved," she said.

She wanted to take a more active role in the organization, and then-President Van Robinson kept inviting her to attend meetings. The NAACP provides training, workshops and conferences to educate members about their mission. Robinson's positive feedback and constructive criticism helped build her self-confidence, she said.

Reese agrees with Dr. King that anybody can serve "just have the will and heart to make a difference."

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