Reno-Sparks NAACP 74th Annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet
October 19, 2019 Grand Sierra Resort — Reno

“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”Dr. Margaret Mead

Teenagers' messages dominate 74th anniversary NAACP event

RENO — "These young ladies are the future and they give me hope at a dark time," stated Reno-Sparks NAACP First Vice-President Andres Luis Barbano at the organization's annual dinner on Oct. 19 at the Grand Sierra Reno.

"Emily Hernandez Medina is very probably the first Latina or Latino keynote speaker in the event's 74-year history," Barbano said, adding "she is almost certainly the first teenager."

The 19 year-old University of Nevada student was accompanied by her mother, Rosalba Medina. Her father was at work.

The brilliant (5.3 grade point average) North Valleys High School student refused to back down when principal Jeanna Curtis ordered her to water down her valedictory address. She wanted to speak truth to power about the racism, bullying, humiliation and intimidation she had both endured and conquered. She never spoke on graduation day. But she captivated the community leaders at the NAACP event.

Emily is now a freshman at the University of Nevada majoring in electrical engineering and renewable energy. The full text of her remarks may be accessed at Washoe County school board member Angie Taylor and Interim Superintendent Kristen McNeill heard her speak from the front row.

"I started high school motivated and full of veracity. I wanted to excel as a scholar and as an individual. These four years have been degrading and deriding. I was told I couldn’t be valedictorian, I was criticized for being an orch (orchestra) dork, I was disparaged constantly for being a first-generation latina. Being valedictorian means nothing, but what I’ve done as an individual shines through. I’m more than a 5.3 GPA, I’m more than 9 AP (advanced placement) classes, I’m more than a number that the school ONLY recognizes me for. And so are you, class of 2019.

"They know of me, but they don’t know me, They know of the students, but they don’t know the students."

A 17 year-old African American from Yerington gave a report one year after she and her family won major litigation against the Lyon County School District. Taylissa Marriott and her sister, Yerington High students, were harassed, threatened and an attempt was made on their lives.

"The school district has replaced and hired an African American principal. I’m not saying our case is the  reason entirely but I do feel as if it was a main factor," she stated. "The mayor has stepped down. I think that our experience has matured me. I am in student senate and am a bigger leader than before. People are actually getting to know me and find out that I’m a very likable person and not just based on my race. There are still 'ignorant' issues in the community but we have made a difference as a family for taking such a stand. I will graduate and I will continue to make a difference in this world," she added.

Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, and Reno Councilmember Jenny Brekhus received the NAACP' s highest award for their advocacy for renters' rights.

Dr. Mead also said that we live in a time unique in all of history when the old must learn from the young because the young are closer to the future. Instances in point:

Hello everyone. For those of you that may not know me I am Taylissa Marriott. I would like to thank the NAACP for inviting my family and I back. My sister is not with us because she moved do to our circumstances last year. This year has been quit different for me without her but things have gotten better Since the last time Year The school district has replaced and hired an African American principal. I'm not saying our case is the  reason entirely but I do feel as if it was a main factor. As well the mayor has stepped down in his position. I am a junior this year and  I do think that our experience has matured me much more. I am in student senate as the high school rally commissioner. I am a bigger leader than I was before People are actually getting to know me and come to find out that I'm a very likable person and not just based on my race. ??there are still "ignorant" issues in and around the community but we have made a difference as a family for taking such a stand And I will graduate and I will continue to make a difference in this world I am Proud of who I am — Taylissa Marriott, Yerington High School, Lyon County, Nevada

Good evening everyone.

I first want to express how grateful I am for this opportunity to be able to speak in front of you. 5 years ago, I would’ve expected to at least learn how to make eye contact without being awkward. But, here we are.

My name’s Emily Hernandez Medina and I’m currently a Freshman at UNR, majoring in Electrical Engineering, with an emphasis in Renewable Energy. A few months ago, I graduated as the Valedictorian for the North Valleys High School, Class of 2019. 

I expected a year full of celebration, gratitude, and merit. The end of my senior year was far from my naïve, considerable expectations.

Since the beginning of high school, I wanted to blossom and thrive as an individual through academics, dual-enrollment and extracurriculars. Regardless, I have never seen such a group of disdainful, condescending people like the North Valleys Administration. When telling my school registrar about my goals of being valedictorian, the registrar laughed in my face and told me, sooner or later I’d realize I couldn’t be valedictorian and couldn’t be capable of accomplishing such a thing.

I worked my way to earn my title as valedictorian, without the need of validation, affirmation or recognition from anyone…literally.

When I was told I was officially Valedictorian, I was pulled into the Principals office to talk about the upcoming awards night,distinguishing the scholars at our school. Principal Jeanna Curtis exhibited the courtesy to tell me “Awards night is in a few days, and I want to show you off tonight. However, I don’t know anything about you; so, tell me about yourself.” This was the FIRST instance the principal had ever
talked to me, despite being in the top 10 and holding several leadership positions at our school for the past few years.

At awards night, I realized how under represented certain students were. So, my graduation speech was commending specific groups and people for their laudable work ethic. At the end of my speech, I vaguely summed up my experience at North Valleys, emphasizing the unwelcoming and discrediting behavior of the school.

Jeanna Curtis pulled me into the office on the last day of school,a few days before graduation, and in a degrading manner, accused me of being SO bitter for no reason, and told me, "There are 2,000 students in this school, how do you expect me to know you and EVERY student out there?” She manipulated me by saying “It’s a privilege to walk at graduation. It’s also a privilege to talk at graduation and I can take it away from you.”

After school had officially ended, I posted something inappropriate on twitter (outside of school). I was angry. I was frustrated. All my accomplishments were self-made without the support of the school, and the administration tried taking credit for it and threatened to take away my hard earned work. This is not to say that any of this applies to the teachers. I loved all of my teachers, and they did the most they could to take care of us. I’m talking about the administration specifically.

Curtis took my speech away the day before graduation. I wasn’t there when she took it away, but my dad was. She demanded an apology from me. I wasn’t sorry then and I’m not sorry now. My principal told my dad, “well if your daughter had apologized, maybe I would’ve given her her speech back.”

I understand I’m out of high school now. I’m an adult and learning the reality. I want to take advantage of the platform I have for the future generation. There are teachers from my old elementary school, Desert Heights, telling me how sad it is to see kids already losing interest in school, and the hope that permeates the school dwindles. It really is disheartening.

How do you want these kids to foster interest, love and fascination for education, with an administration and school system that sets you up for loss and defeat?

I struggle so, so much with this reality. It’s my first, official semester at UNR. I know this is STEM specific, but I rarely see kids from my high school. I see so little so FEW women in STEM. I see such a small number of minorities, and I have already dealt with a copious amount of diminishing, deprecating behavior and interactions. North Valleys won’t empower students for success or combat the odds with their incompetent practice.

I don’t care if people victimize me, it’s a reality I don’t deserve, and I don’t want to see it happen with others.

Here’s my valedictorian speech that I wasn’t able to say at graduation. It’s titled “To Say the Least.”


I want to start off by saying something in Spanish. Mamá y Papá, ustedes me han dado un amor y un apoyo interminable. Nunca uvo un día en donde estábamos luchando financieramente nomas para sobrevivir una vida simple, que apenas fuera estable. Estoy muy agradecida por todo lo que han hecho para mi: emigrar más de 2,000 milas y trabajar 2-3 trabajos para que yo pudiera recibir una educación. Mami y papi, eso de andar trabajando 80 horas ya se acabó. Espero que me reciba de la universidad para que puedas llamarme una latina valedictorian yingeniera eléctrica. Te lo aseguro, ustedes van a vivir una vida sin preocupaciones, exactamente como la que me dieron cuando estaba chica. Te amo.

Mom and dad, you have given me an infinite amount of support and love. You both worked so hard where there was never a day where I knew we were struggling financially to live a simple, barely stable life. I’m so grateful for everything you’ve done for me: immigrate more than 2,000 miles, and work 2-3 jobs so I can receive an education, Mami y papi, those 80 hour work weeks will soon come to an end. I hope to graduate from college so you can call me your Latina valedictorian and your electrical engineer. I guarantee it, you’ll live a life without any worries, exactly like the one you gave me when I was younger. I love you.

Now, I want to thank everyone for coming today to our graduation. It has been 13 years full of growth, enlightenment, a few too many McDonald's meals and incessant procrastination. Honestly, I would’ve never thought to be where I am today. So, I'm proud to be the class of 2019’s valedictorian and here’s our story... with a hint of procrastination.


The theatre worked diligently and has placed in regional competitions and we’ve had the honor of having amazing actors represent our school in state competitions. Orchestra has had over 20 students participate in honor orchestra, with some in principal positions. We have scored well above superior ratings by playing challenging music at the WCSD Orchestra Festival. Additionally, orchestra has had a plethora of students participate in the Reno Pops, and the Reno Philharmonic Youth orchestras, where we have dedicated hundreds of hours practicing, rehearsing, and performing. The choir, with their harmonically beautiful voices have had amazing musicians participate in both Honor Choir and All-State Choir. The band, with interesting kids, has placed first, second and third place at several competitions both locally and in California.

Band continues to flourish and is proud to represent our school as a marching band, despite being a slightly dysfunctional family. The North Valleys Key Club has raised hundreds of dollars to donate to the pediatric trauma program, which helps children undergoing physical, mental, and emotional trauma. Our Key Club has given back and volunteered at the Safari Zoo, park clean-ups, Feed the Needy, and has fundraised to aid those impacted by the California Wildfire. Unfortunately, a large portion of work that our students have accomplished has gone unrecognized for the past few years, and it’s been clearly evident these last few months.

Students like myself are not recognized equally as athletes or JROTC students. So, here’s to all the fine arts kids, STEM students, and those in Chess, Robotics, Academic Olympics, Latino Club, or Key Club, because we are only as good as the sum of our parts. While it seems like athletes are the face of this school, you are the ones that add so much personality and depth to this community. You’re not invisible.

I started high school motivated and full of veracity. I wanted to excel as a scholar and as an individual. These four years have been degrading and deriding. I was told I couldn’t be valedictorian, I was criticized for being an orch dork, I was disparaged constantly for being a first-generation latina. Being valedictorian means nothing, but what I’ve done as an individual shines through. I’m more than a 5.3 GPA, I’m more than 9 AP classes, I’m more than a number that the school ONLY recognizes me for. And so are you, class of 2019.

They know of me, but they don’t know me.

They know of the students, but they don’t know the students.

Thank you

Emily Hernandez Medina, North Valleys High School, Class of 2019



  • Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland

  • Maya Angelou, National Treasure

    Prof. Robert "Jake" Highton, Emeritus Professor of Journalism
          University of Nevada-Reno

    Nevada Attorney General and Chief Justice Charles Springer

    Assemblyman Bob Price, D-North Las Vegas

    Dorothy Ann Tate, 86, and Olga Anna Blanck, 90
          The latter are the mothers of former Reno-Sparks Branch member Sharrone Blanck
                and former President Jeffrey S. Blanck

    Dennis C. Myers, Journalist

Andrew Barbano, First VP & Event Chair
(775) 882-TALK [882-8255]

NAACP 74th Freedom Fund Dinner — Warriors & Trailblazers

RENO, NV (18 Oct. 2019) — The expected and unexpected will be the order of the evening when the Reno-Sparks NAACP convenes its 74th Annual Freedom Fund Awards Banquet Saturday evening, Oct.19, in the main ballroom of Reno's Grand Sierra Resort.

The local branch of the nation's oldest civil rights organization will honor two elected officials who have braved the headwinds of money and power and even won while losing. Three African-American overachievers will be recognized for going where none have gone before.

The identity of the keynote speaker is being kept under wraps.

"The moment our keynoter takes the microphone, history will be made," stated NAACP First Vice-President Andrew Barbano.

Nevada State Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, and Reno City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus will receive the organization's highest honor, the Eddie Scott/Bertha Woodard Human Rights Advocacy Award. They will be recognized for responding to the plight of Nevada renters where other elected officials would not act.

Earlier this year, Ratti introduced Senate Bill 398 which proposed to give new powers to local governments to foster affordable housing. Without a single co-sponsor, it passed the state senate with bi-partisan support only to be tabled in the lower house. Las Vegas lawmakers asserted that the bill was unnecessary because current law grants municipalities all the power they need to regulate rentals.

"Sen. Ratti won by losing," Barbano said. "She secured a legislative finding that all local governments need is courage."

Shortly thereafter, Brekhus proposed that the City of Reno establish a Tenants Issues and Concerns Board charged with exposing rent gouging and other complaints. The Reno City Council passed it unanimously, 7-0. It will provide a forum for the aggrieved and gather information. Fact-finding leads to legislation.

The Inaugural Scott/Woodard Award, named after two legendary Reno-Sparks Branch presidents, was first given in 2015 to the late Dennis Myers and his colleagues at the Reno News & Review. Myers will be memorialized at the event. Last year, the honor went to the courageous Lyon County family that stood up to fear, intimidation and death threats at Yerington High School. An investigation of the Yerington chief of police for illegally shredding police reports is still pending.

Two generals and a congressman will also be recognized. Outstanding Professional Achievement awards will go to Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford and Nevada National Guard Adjutant General Ondra Berry. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., represents part of Clark County and six central Nevada counties. All are the first African Americans to hold those posts.

Their awards will be presented by former Sen. Joseph M. Neal, Jr., D-N. Las Vegas, the first African American elected to Nevada's upper house. He served for 32 years.

Doors open at 5:30 p.m. with dinner at 6:30 in the Reno Ballroom at the Grand Sierra Resort. Principal sponsors include Wells Fargo Bank, Laborers' Union Local 169, Washoe County, MGM Resorts International, the Nevada State AFL-CIO, the Northern Nevada Central Labor Council and philanthropist Tom Steyer's presidential campaign.

"We made it known that all presidential candidates would be welcome and any who attend would be allowed to speak," Barbano said. "The NAACP is a non-partisan organization, so I contacted the campaign of former Massachusetts Republican Gov. William Weld and asked the Nevada GOP to notify President Trump. We have received no response from either.

'The president is well aware of the Grand Sierra. Years ago when he was shopping Nevada hotels, he flew over the property which had recently been acquired from MGM by Bally's. He dissed Bally's for installing 'cheap plastic signs' on the exterior," Barbano remembers.

"We all know the president prefers gold, so perhaps he didn't like Bally's plum purple presentation priced at a paltry $500,000," Barbano said.

In addition to philanthropist Steyer, Democratic presidential frontrunners Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren as well as Sen. Cory Booker are supporting the event. All four are sending delegations. Several local Republican leaders have also made reservations.

All seats are reserved. Sponsors who have not yet submitted their guest lists are reminded to do so immediately.

Reservations for non-members are $105.00 per person in advance, $115.00 at the door and include a one-year regular membership. Reno-Sparks NAACP members are $75.00 per person in advance, $85.00 at the door. Youth, students (with i.d.) and seniors are $50.00 in advance, $55.00 at the door. Vegetarian or special needs entrées are available by prior request.

Reservations may be made via the secure PayPal portal at Any made after 1:00 p.m. Saturday should be done by calling Barbano directly at (775) 747-0544.

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It was the “year of the woman” at 74th annual Freedom Fund Awards banquet hosted by the Reno-Sparks branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Oct. 19.
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Top of Her Class
Emily Hernandez Medina was valedictorian of the 2019 North Valleys High School class but was not allowed to give her commencement speech. She gave it on Oct. 19 at the 74th Annual Freedom Fund awards banquet hosted by the Reno-Sparks NAACP.
By Jeri Davis / Reno News & Review 10-24-2019

Housing advocates
At this year’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Freedom Fund Awards Banquet—in its 74th year—two female policy makers received the group’s Eddie Scott/Bertha Woodard Human Rights Advocacy Award.
By Jeri Davis / Reno News & Review 10-24-2019

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