Liberty County School System Superintendent Dr. Valya Lee urged members of the Liberty County NAACP to use the power of prayer and the strength of the ballot box to bring about change for all people.
Lee, the keynote speaker Friday at the local NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund Banquet in Midway, spoke for more than 30 minutes and
at various times quoted both scripture and Dr. Martin Luther King as she addressed a full room in the John D. McGiver Auditorium.
Much of her speech centered on recent police shootings.
"I’m amazed every time someone gets killed or something happens, we want to take to the street and start fighting and burning and rioting and looting," Lee said. "That’s not the way to go … When we look at those who fought for civil rights in times past, they fought with their minds, they fought with their prayers, they fought with their presence."
Lee also noted the NAACP is a civil rights organization for all people, regardless of color.
"The beauty of the NAACP is that it is not about black, white, green, red or blue, it’s about all mankind," she said. "While black lives matter, we have to remember that all lives matter."
But Lee insisted that NAACP members be vigilant and stand up for what is right. She said Terrance Crutcher, the victim of a police shooting in Tulsa, was the same age as her son. She said dash cam video showed Crutcher didn’t have a weapon on him when he was shot while walking toward police after his SUV broke down.
"It’s a sad day when your car can’t break down without you ending up being shot," Lee said. "That’s why it’s so important for us to bind together."
Lee referenced the Washington Post’s online police shootings database, which at the time of her speech Friday said there were 697 police shootings and of those 172 were black men.
"That’s just this year," she said. "It’s time for us to express our dismay over 697 lives that have been lost. It’s time for us to force police to stop exercising brutality, it’s time for us to call out what’s happening."
Lee said before giving her grandson a car, she insisted he "put those hands at 10 and 2" if he’s ever pulled over by police.
"Ten and two," she repeated. "Don’t go reaching into that glove compartment, and when the man gives you a directive, you say ‘yes sir,’ because guess what, that service revolver on his hip doesn’t have a name on it. He’ll win before you win. We need to teach our young men and women that."
But Lee didn’t castigate police. She paused to show a video of the widow of a Louisiana sheriff’s deputy who was killed in retaliation for a police shooting in Baton Rouge meeting with a leader of the Black Lives Matter movement.
All sides can be hurt and all have some fence mending to do, Lee said.
"The more we can talk to our young people, helping them to understand that the police are here to serve and protect," Lee said. "We’ve got to continue to build again those community relations and restore that trust."
Lee also reminded those in the audience that while there’s strength in numbers and collective action, there’s also the power of single individuals.
"Ladies and gentleman, make a difference, be a difference," she said. "If we’re going to rise above this, we have to have the right mindset individually. It’s not about raising Cain and clowning and cursing, it’s about speaking intelligently to the people who have the power to make things happen."
Prayer is also important, Lee said.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Jesus is the answer," she said.
Lee also mentioned the NAACP’s lawsuit to extend voter registration due to Hurricane Matthew.
A federal judge extended it to Tuesday in Chatham County, but registration ended Friday in other counties along the coast, including Liberty. Since then, the American Civil Liberties Union also has filed suit against Georgia for not extending the deadline for all the counties impacted by Matthew.
Lee’s speech took place before the ACLU action, and as she ended her remarks she asked members to get out and vote "and take somebody with you."
"Sometimes we feel like running from the tough times in our lives, but ladies and gentlemen, it’s those tough moments that define who we are," Lee said. "Be thankful for where we are now, and keep fighting for where we want to be tomorrow. Our lives matter and our votes count."