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Two seek Lake County NAACP post

Robette Williams candidate NAACP president Lake County. | Special Sun-Times Media

Robette Williams candidate to NAACP president in Lake County. | Special to Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 16, 2013 1:56AM

Two women, each with strong experience in community building, will vie for a two-year term as president of the NAACP Lake County Branch during the group’s election for that office Nov. 27.

Jennifer Witherspoon, chief of diversion programs for the Lake County Sheriff’s Office and current first vice president of the branch, and Robette Williams, a six-year member of the branch’s Executive Committee, hope to succeed outgoing president, Karen Carstens.

Witherspoon, of Waukegan, who plans to focus on partnering with other organizations and increasing membership among young people, said she sees no conflict of interest between her career in law enforcement and heading a group that has a history of challenging discriminatory treatment of minorities — sometimes by police.

“If there was a conflict, I would recuse myself just as President Carstens did,” Witherspoon said.

Carstens, who works for the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center in North Chicago, said she was always cognizant that she worked for the federal government.

“I have to be very conscious of the Hatch Act (which regulates political activities of government employees),” Carstens said. “There can be conflicts and each (branch) officer has to decide what those are as it relates to them and their employers.”

“I just want to help people,” said Witherspoon, a former Lake County Jail chief, who sits on the boards of more than a dozen community groups, including the Coalition to Reduce Recidivism, United Way of Lake County, Nicasa, Community Action Partnership, YWCA Lake County and the Community Faith Council.

Witherspoon, who holds a law degree, grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago and said she experienced many of the challenges of poverty, including “hunger, oppression and injustice.”

“I was able to change my life through my faith in God, my ability to work with people and just good old-fashioned hard work,” she said. “I would like to use those same methods to help bring focused direction, specific changes and credibility to the NAACP. If we work together, we can make real changes.

Williams, of Gurnee, serves as district secretary for LincolnLand Exchange Clubs of Illinois and president of the Exchange Club of Libertyville, Mundelein, Vernon Hills Exchange Club. She was recently elected to serve as vice president of the board of directors for Maristella, a Libertyville-based transitional home for at-risk women and their children.

“The NAACP is in Lake County to serve and to extend equality,” Williams said. “When we defend equality, we achieve more.”

Williams, like Witherspoon, is an advocate and volunteer for many community organizations and served as executive legislative assistant to the late Democratic state Rep. Eddie Washington of Waukegan. She wants to promote unity among the branch’s approximate 500 members and grow membership outside the lakefront communities of Zion, Waukegan and North Chicago.

Williams is married to Fred Williams, pastor of Waukegan-based New Life Ministries in Christ, and she is founder of Godly Women in Ministries. Witherspoon is also married; both women have grown children.

Carstens, who has accepted the office of secretary with the NAACP Illinois State Convention, is declining to endorse either contender. “They’re both equally qualified and will do a good job,” she said. “We’re leaving it up to the membership to decide.”

Under Carsten’s tenure, the branch made headway on voter registration, political awareness and support of legislative efforts including House Bill 5723, which expands sealable offenses to include some non-violent felonies.

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