By Robbie Ward
TUPELO – Wilbert W. “Wil” James Jr., president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky, will be the keynote speaker at the annual banquet for the Tupelo/Lee County branch NAACP this coming weekend.
The Leander Lee Fields Sr. Freedom Fund Banquet, the annual fundraiser for the civil rights organization, will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Clarion/Summit Center, 852 N. Gloster St.
James, a native of Norfolk, Va., has served as president of the major automotive manufacturing company’s plant in Georgetown, Ky., for six years and has worked for Toyota in several roles since 1987.
James earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering technology and an associate degree in applied sciences from Old Dominion University. Among his many honors, he was named Toyota’s diversity champion for the company’s North American manufacturing headquarters.
The Rev. Chris Traylor, president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said James’ career represents impressive achievements that young people could use as a role model while Toyota’s commitment to diversity and community support make the company a corporate role model.
“Toyota has done a spectacular job in the community to bring people together,” Traylor said. “They’ve worked really hard to be part of the community.”
Among the recognitions at the dinner, “trailblazers” will be honored for their community, state and other contributions.
While members of the organization stress unity, they also want to bring awareness for issues related to helping disfranchised in the community. Event chairman Jim W. Casey said issues of concern for the organization include ensuring all qualified voters are able to vote in light of recent voter identification laws passed, monitoring the impact of charter schools on public school support and encouraging people of color to get involved in public affairs.
Locally, Casey said the organization supports the city of Tupelo establishing a public transportation system for people unable to afford personal vehicles.
Tickets for the event are available in advance by contacting Traylor at (662) 372-3680 or Casey at (662) 844-4166.