As a young man growing up on a farm just south of Statesboro, Gerald Ellis learned how to survive in the world as a “colored man.”
In those early days, one of his friends shared that he would never be “anything more than a Negro” and, so, he should not try to improve his lot in life.
But Ellis didn’t listen. Instead, he became determined to better his life so he could, in turn, help educate others in the struggle for equal human rights.
“Voting is one of those rights our forefathers fought (for), and many died to attain,” he said Saturday evening, “and we should never take history lightly. We must continue to strive to improve ourselves and others by moving forward and never backwards.”
Ellis was the keynote speaker for the Annual Freedom Fund Banquet, hosted by the Bulloch County Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. More than 250 people attended the event, held in the Russell Student Union Ballroom on the campus of Georgia Southern University.
The banquet’s theme was “Your Power, Your Decision – Vote.”
In speaking of those early teen years, Ellis said: “My brother’s pain was my pain, and I felt that we all should strive to be better. We cannot go back where we started, but continue the track we’re on.”
After graduating from Southeast Bulloch High School, Ellis followed his brother Gary to Princeton University, where he majored in politics and played varsity football. Ellis graduated from Princeton in 1989 and moved to Washington, D.C., where he began to pursue a legal career, gaining experience in the world of lobbying and political influence. In 1994, Ellis received his law degree from the University of Georgia.
After working with several law firms and gaining more experience, Ellis finally found his proper place with the Federal Aviation Administration following the aftermath of the 1997 ValuJet crash and has been there since then. He is now one of two managing attorneys for the FAA Southern Region’s office and is a member of both the Georgia and D.C. bars.
Ellis and his family live in Stockbridge, Ga. He is a member of the Princeton Club of Georgia’s board and a committee member for Princeton’s Prize in Race Relations.
Following a history lesson on how blacks became eligible to vote and the high cost of that freedom, Ellis urged each person to exercise that right on Tuesday.
“We are living in history right now,” he said. “What we do at the polls this coming Tuesday will continue to make a difference now and in the future for all Americans. We must get out and vote, which is our right, and prove that each of us together can and will make a difference.”
Other speakers at the banquet included U.S. Rep. John Barrow, D-Ga., and Statesboro Mayor Joe Brannen.
The Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson of The Johnson Firm emceed the meeting and introduced Pearl Brown, the president of the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP. Brown introduced Jasmine Fillmore, the president of the Georgia Southern University Chapter of the NAACP.
Lisa King Ellis introduced her husband, the keynote speaker.