Donald Cash Sr. didn't fit the physical description of a typical meat cutter.
In the mid-1960s, that was a job for white men. But he knew someone who knew someone, and there he was working as a meat cutter at a Giant grocery store in Rockville during the Civil Rights Movement.
"There were some hurdles I had to jump over. It was a challenge being one of few blacks where, prior to that, minorities didn't have any jobs other than putting groceries in the car or getting broken items off the floor," he said. "The cashier and departmental jobs were off-limits at the time."
Cash, a Columbia resident, has made promoting equality not only a career but also a lifetime of service. He worked as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union executive assistant to the president and serves as a state executive committee and national board member for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
He was chosen as a recipient of this year's Freedom Fund award, which the Carroll County NAACP branch gives out each year. The 10th annual banquet for the honorees will be held at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Martin's Caterers in Westminster. Lillian Lowery, the new Maryland State Superintendent of Schools, is the evening's guest speaker.
After breaking barriers as a meat cutter, Cash decided to become a union representative for grocery stores in 1970. He made sure workers were treated fairly on the job, encouraged members to vote and advocated for equal pay and more.
He realized that this job description aligned with the mission of the NAACP.
"The NAACP, a lot of people think we only represent black folks, but we believe in everybody having equal rights, human rights," Cash said. "They say an injury to one is an injury to all."
He's assumed multiple leadership roles in the organization. For six years, he's served as a NAACP national board member for region seven - which includes Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. - and was elected to a third term. In this role, he helps set policy for the 1,700 NAACP branches nationwide.
He also helps individual branches in the state enact the national board's agenda as a member of the Maryland NAACP executive committee.
Jean Lewis, the Carroll County NAACP branch president, said his work has touched Carroll County.
"Because we're a small branch, we've needed support," she said. "Anything we've called upon him to help us in any way, he's been able to do it for us."
All of Cash's work intertwines. Although he's retired, he serves as the United Food and Commercial Workers Union minority coalition president. He felt it was important for the coalition to give back to the community, so he founded a nonprofit to do so. It's called Faces of our Children, and it works to fund finding a cure and educate the public about sickle cell disease.
He's also the vice chair of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization that advocates for Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for society.
While he's honored to be a Freedom Fund award recipient, he said he and all the other volunteers work for a different reason.
"We don't do this for awards, but it's always nice when people recognize the things that you do," he said. "But we don't do it for the recognition. I've got grandchildren; I've got children who I don't want to see mistreated."