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Don Lemon delivers at Memphis Branch NAACP Freedom Fund Celebration

Former CNN news anchor Don Lemon spoke candidly about his firing from the 24-hour news network to an attentive audience at the Memphis Branch NAACP’s Freedom Fund Celebration on Saturday (June 17).

The 57-year-old Lemon, who joined CNN in 2006, was reflective about processing his termination and taking a lesson from it.

“Sometimes, when people think they are firing you, they are actually lighting a fire under you,” Lemon told a cheering audience.

Lemon was the keynote speaker at the local civil rights organization’s major fundraiser. The event was held at Downtown’s Halloran Centre For Performing Arts and Education.

Beyond Lemon’s address, the event included the presentation of awards to individuals who have advocated for social justice or strongly supported the local branch.

Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr. presents RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols, with the Ida B. Wells Courage Award. Also pictured: NAACP Executive Director Vickie Hayes-Terry. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Among the honored individuals was RowVaughn Wells, mother of Tyre Nichols, who was given the “Ida B. Wells Courage Award.”

Nichols was fatally bludgeoned by Memphis police officers near his Hickory Hills home on the night of Jan. 7. He died from his injuries Jan. 10. Five MPD officer, who were part of a special crime suppression unit, have been charged with second-degree murder and other serious felonies in connection with Nichol’s death.

On April 24, Lemon announced he had been from the network in a tweet reading, “I was informed this morning by my agent I have been terminated by CNN. I am stunned.”

Don Lemon as he delivers the keynote address. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Lemon continued, “After 17 years at CNN I would have thought that someone in management would have had the decency to tell me directly. At no time was I ever given any indication that I would not be able to continue to do the work I have loved at the network. It is clear that there are some larger issues at play.”

CNN countered Lemon’s account, saying in a statement that he was “offered an opportunity to meet with management but instead released a statement on Twitter.”

Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr., who is a candidate for Memphis mayor, called Lemon’s address “thought-provoking and insightful…

“He talked about his love for Memphis and how he had officially adopted Memphis as his second home. We all left Saturday evening with the sense that the best is yet to come for Mr. Lemon in his future endeavors,” Turner said.

Turner explained Lemon was sought as this year’s speaker, not only for his star power, but also the inspiring message of hope when life throws a curve ball. “He did not disappoint,” Turner said.

NAACP Executive Director Vickie Hayes-Terry met Lemon when he came to Memphis to cover the Tyre Nichols case.

 “He was just so kind and genuine and personable. I knew our Freedom Fund Celebration was coming up, and I asked him if he could be our keynote speaker. He told me, ‘Yes, of course.’ After he was no longer with CNN, I told him we wanted him, not someone from CNN.”

Memphis Branch NAACP President Van Turner Jr. acknowledges the 2023 Freedom Fund Gala co-chairs, philanthropist and entrepreneur Tommy Fan and Mark Yates, TVA’s West Region vice president. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley/The New Tri-State Defender)

Others lauded during Saturday’s event were:

  • Velma Lois Jones: Velma Lois Jones Trailblazer Award.
  • Tyronne Burroughs: Robert R. Church Philanthropy Award.
  • Tomeka and Russell Wigginton: Vasco and Maxine Smith Team Advocate Award. 
  • Dr. J. Lawrence Turner: Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks Clergy Award.

Posthumously awarded were:

  • Floyd Tyler: Jesse Turner Sr. Financial Services Award.
  • State Rep. Barbara Cooper: Johnnie R. Turner Public Service Award.


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