The holiday spirit, the need for inspiring youth and a plan to achieve peace between everyone are among the themes for one annual banquet in Fort Smith.

Members of the Sebastian County Branch of the NAACP will host their "Tis the Season" Christmas Banquet beginning at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 9 in the Reynolds Room of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith's Smith-Pendergraft Campus Center, 5210 Grand Ave. The third annual event will feature Rep. George McGill as guest speaker and more, said the Rev. Jerry L. Jennings, president of the Sebastian County NAACP.

"This is our annual fundraiser, and we're excited that Mr. George McGill will be our keynote speaker for us," Jennings said. "Dr. Paul Beran, chancellor with UAFS, will be with us, as will others."

Set to include a menu of prime rib, ham and more, the dinner event will help raise money for and promote scholarships for area high school seniors, Jennings said. Scholarship recipients will be selected and announced in the spring, he said.

"We will send out later who the candidates are; we've already passed out questionnaires and we'll know more about the recipients when we get the school reports," Jennings said. "We gave away five $500 scholarships last year, so we'll give away however many we can to those who qualify this time.

"The scholarship recipients have to meet certain requirements," he added. "We look at their grades and their citizenship. We'll send out forms and then we have a committee look over that."

Jennings said that he and other banquet organizers refuse to set a goal on how much they'd like to raise from the banquet.

"We hope to raise as much as we can, and we want people to know that we give scholarships to Asian students, Caucasian students and others; it's not all African-American students who get the scholarships," he said. "The scholarships that we award aren't solely for any one nationality. The scholarships are for kids."

The Tis the Season Banquet also will feature a musical performance by Jermaine Mondaine, a saxophonist based in Muskogee, Okla., Jennings said. As many as 200 people are expected to attend the event, which aims to promote peace and harmony in the region and beyond, he said.

"This banquet is a community event and it benefits the community and, especially, the young kids," said Jim Lyons, treasurer for the Sebastian County Branch of the NAACP. "This banquet is designed for scholarship enhancement and we are focused on the young folks, and because of that, it brings excitement to me — knowing that we are doing something to try and make a difference in the lives of young people."

Lyons and Jennings both said they take pride in their roles for the branch.

"The Sebastian County NAACP was an ongoing branch for years, and then it went dormant," Jennings said. "We then revived the Sebastian County branch in 2013, and we now have 155 members. We're looking to add more members."

Jennings said he is quick to correct misconceptions about the Sebastian County chapter.

"The NAACP isn't a militant organization; it was formed by Jewish Americans, Caucasian Americans and African-Americans in 1909," he said. "The NAACP has been an arm to address injustice for all people.

"A lot of people attribute it to just African-American lineage, but the NAACP, in fact, comes to the rescue of all people," Jennings added. "As Dr. King says, the NAACP fights injustice. We've been fighting for the rights of people for years and years, and the NAACP is a unique, peaceful entity."

Jennings said the Sebastian County Branch of the NAACP, whose membership includes Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, among others, also is raising money to take students on an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. The plan calls for making the trip last eight or nine days, he said.

"We hope to take some kids to the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, so the students can see what people have contributed over the years," Jennings said. "We think it is important and it would be something good for the students to experience." 

Jennings said he is holding onto hope that the U.S., one day, will reach a sense of peace and respect for everyone. The current climate of the country, however, does raise concern for citizens, he said.

"I never thought at this point in our history, now, that we would be revisiting situations we put to rest a long time ago; there's too big of a divide in the country now," Jennings said. "If we all just talked and were more open to solve problems, we would have peace.

"There's really no way and no reason to stay divided, because we are more alike than we are different," he added. "We should work together. It would be easy if we all worked together."