NAACP Lincoln 36th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet

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Kayla Wolf, Journal Star

If there is one thing freshman state Sen. Justin Wayne remembers from this year’s legislative session, it was the importance of voting.

Wayne, who represents the 13th district in Omaha, introduced a bill in January that would have taken away a two-year wait to vote for released prisoners with felony convictions.

But Wayne didn’t have enough votes to override Gov. Pete Ricketts’ veto.

In spite of that, Wayne said Saturday in a keynote speech at the NAACP Lincoln Branch’s 36th Annual Freedom Fund Banquet that Nebraskans must continue to encourage voting rights.

Wayne reflected on his first year in the legislature, where he served on four committees, including Urban Affairs.

He also touched on national politics and the importance of voting.

“We have a president who I believe is going to lead us down a very destructive path,” the Democrat said. “We chose not to go to the polls. We chose not to make sure our friends went to the polls. We have to make sure next election that doesn’t happen.”

Wayne, who was born and raised in Omaha, previously served on the Omaha Public School Board.

Saturday’s banquet, held at The Graduate hotel, recognized local leaders “who are helping our community to become a more just and welcoming community for all,” said NAACP chapter president Jeannette Jones Vazansky.

Mayor Chris Beutler said it’s easy to become discouraged by events since last November’s election, but that organizations such as the NAACP must continue their work.”The NAACP and other organizations in this community were here long before the current administration and will be here long after that administration,” Beutler said.

The Lincoln branch of the NAACP will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2018.

Pastor Tom Barber and the People’s City Mission were honored with a community service award.

Toward the end of his speech, Wayne said much of the NAACP’s work must center around enabling economic opportunities for young African-Americans and that he plans to introduce a bill in 2018 to facilitate these opportunities.

“Until we start pushing the economic envelope, it won’t change anything,” Wayne said. “But we can’t do that until we get engaged and vote.”