CHESAPEAKE CITY — When Laurabelle Hope helped found the Cecil County chapter of the NAACP in 1962, she was fresh out of college, but already she wanted to make a difference.
During the early years of the NAACP, Hope remembers going to Washington, D.C., to hear Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak.
“We walked over and over that day,” she said. “I don’t know how many miles. Sometimes I think that’s what’s wrong with my body now. I put too many miles on it in my younger years. But all of it was worth it. All of it was worth it overall because if one person is a wee bit better because we had contact with them, it is worth you having lived.”
Hope, who was Laurabelle Loper at the time, served as the secretary and was a founding member of the civil rights organization’s local chapter. More than a half century later, she attended the Cecil County NAACP’s 56th annual Freedom Fund Banquet on Saturday, Nov. 3, at Schaefer’s Canal House in Chesapeake City.
The value of kindness
Hope said a lot has changed in the world since the creation of the local NAACP chapter — and a lot hasn’t.
“The changes you see are in the education and in the housing in particular,” she said, explaining that she and her mother were among the first women, let alone black women, to buy a home. “It wasn’t easy for a woman, much less a minority woman, to get a mortgage. But I was one of the first.”
Working at the Perry Point VA Medical Center and Aberdeen Proving Ground, Hope said she broke the glass ceiling for women twice as the first woman to achieve the GS-14 and GS-15 grades in the federal government.
Since the founding of Cecil County’s NAACP chapter, black citizens have made strides in housing and careers, among other areas. But Hope acknowledged that there’s still work to be done.
“We still do not fully accept one another on an equal level,” she said. “See, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what your education is. What are you? You’re a human being. When you can accept every human being as being somebody, then we will have arrived.”
Hope was born in Elk Neck, but moved to live with her grandmother in Pennsylvania when she was 3 years old.
“You wouldn’t believe it now but I was a fragile child,” said Hope, whose family didn’t think she was strong enough to stand in the cold to wait for the morning school bus.
Eventually Hope came back to live with her family in Charlestown. After she graduated from George Washington Carver High School in Elkton, she earned her bachelor’s degree and MBA from Morgan State University.
Although she lives in Delaware now, Hope said it was important for her to return to Cecil County after college to pay forward the good fortune she received early in life.
“I came back to Cecil County from college with the idea that somebody helped me,” she said. “I stood on somebody else’s shoulders. I’ve got to go where there is still a ‘me’ and allow somebody to stand on my shoulders … I like sharing with others. If I can in any way set an example and show if I, a little country girl, could do it, why can’t you?”
Hope’s advice for the upcoming generation of young activists and leaders is simply to be kind to everyone they meet.
“Just as you get more bees with honey than you do with vinegar, you do more with love than you do with hate and violence. Get rid of all of the animosity, all of the anger … If you don’t know me, you can’t possibly understand me. Take the time to get to know people and I think you’ll find they’re not too different than from what you are.”
The next generation
During Saturday’s ceremony, the Cecil County NAACP honored the Wellness Action Teams of Cecil/Harford (WATCH), Perryville Middle School teacher Travon Morgan, and the Rev. R. Kevin Brown Sr. of Wright’s AME Church for their work in community service, education and religious affairs, respectively.
The chapter also awarded $500 and one-year NAACP memberships to five Cecil County Public Schools students: Sara Campana, Jaycie D. Coastes, Emma Coggins, Alexis Durham and Mariana Espinosa Barrientos.
Elyse Murray, the president of the chapter, said the honorees had demonstrated commitment to the county.
“They are most definitely organizations or individuals that are just focused on the needs of the people,” Murray said.
Morgan teaches sixth grade English and language arts at Perryville Middle School and was also the 2017 CCPS Teacher of the Year. True to the name of the Education Visionary Leadership award he received, Morgan said his mission is to help students realize their own vision.
“They have to look back in hindsight and foresight and put those things together, and then create the type of people they want to be,” he said. “My mission is to help students to get to that point where they can apply the things they learn and then help to benefit other people in the process.”
Morgan said he was impressed by the diverse students who were honored by the chapter.
“I like that they reach all kinds of students,” he said. “It’s not limited to one socioeconomic class, one group, one racial class. Anybody can benefit from what this organization does for people.”
Murray was a youth member of the Cecil NAACP in the 1970s. After she graduated from Rising Sun High School, she moved to Atlanta but returned to Cecil County in 1994. Now, she is in her eighth year as president of the chapter. She said the chapter has a great need for new members.
“Unfortunately, we have 110 members but we only have an active 20. It’s a lot of work with few workers,” she said.
Murray also wants to create a youth council which would have its own executive board and help get the word out about issues in the community.
“They will go out into the community. It’s an opportunity for learning and serving the people … Without the youth, we’re going to die on the vine,” she said.
Murray said the NAACP is not just focused on the needs of black people, but is dedicated to the needs of all people.
“When I reach out to people who are not African American about something, especially with the youth, they’ll say, ‘Is that just for the black kids?’ and I’ll say ‘No, it’s for all our kids,’” she said. “I want to bridge that gap. Actually, I want to get rid of that gap. We’re here to make sure that everybody is treated fairly, period.”