‘We Have A Lot of Work to Do’

NAACP National Convention

by: Alexis Taylor Special to the AFRO
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Healthcare, criminal justice, and civic engagement are among the most pressing issues to be focused on during the NAACP’s 108th National Convention taking place in Baltimore this year.

The conference, at the Baltimore Convention Center July 22-26, will include a host of celebrity speakers, panel discussions, movie screenings, and work sessions focused on improving life for African Americans and making the Black community, “Steadfast and Immovable,” the convention’s theme.

Some of the more prominent speakers scheduled to address the 108th NAACP National Convention include: Rep. Elijah Cummings, (D-MD.), former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Sen. Kamala Harris (pictured), (D-CA.), acclaimed actor Chadwick Boseman and Sen. Cory Booker, (D-NJ). (Courtesy photo)

However, the civil rights group founded in 1909, is currently an organization in transition. Former president Cornell William Brooks ended his run as leader on June 30, when the NAACP opted not to renew his contract. He had held the position since 2014. Chairman Leon W. Russell is currently acting as director of the organization.

“We have a lot of work to do,” Tessa Hill- Aston, president of the Baltimore Chapter of the NAACP, told the {AFRO}. “Right now is a trying time for all of us with Black on Black crime, drugs and other things affecting our communities.”

Hill-Aston said that progress begins with education, strong mentors and returning self-esteem back to the Black community.

“It starts with helping the young men who are killing each other over petty stuff and small amounts of money. In the past, regardless of whether you were college bound or not, you still learned a trade. We need to get back to that and let people feel good about what they can do.”

Hill-Aston said she plans to be a part of the discussion on criminal justice reform, which includes information about expungement and voting laws for convicted felons.

Among the more prominent speakers featured this year are, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder,  U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, Congressman Elijah E. Cummings, actor Chadwick Boseman, and famed journalists April Ryan and Maureen Bunyan.

Aside from a host of speakers, the NAACP’s Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) will also be taking place for hundreds of African-American high school students looking to excel in the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, math) fields.

The students have been preparing all year to compete in 32 different domains and will arrive earlier than convention attendees to participate in the competition, which begins July 20. And while the convention does have an agenda for youth, it is separate from the adult agenda, which some local activists say is a fundamental problem with the organization.

“One of the main issues with traditional civil rights organizations is that they are typically not very good at drawing in a younger audience,” said Adam Jackson, chief executive officer of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a Baltimore-based think tank. “They aren’t focused on developing young leadership to have a voice in their organization.”

Though Jackson said he sees the conference as, “People taking a paid vacation to talk about things they already know about,” he says he will still be in attendance to network and exchange ideas with others from around the country.

Jackson said he hopes the NAACP on a national level will begin to back efforts already in place to improve the Black community.

“All around Baltimore we have mentoring programs that work with youth and focus on education. They can support them and -by proxy- support the voices of young folks,” he said.

While Jackson blasted the NAACP on a national level, he did praise Hill-Aston, saying, “The national NAACP has been generally irrelevant to most of the things that we are working on here in Baltimore, (but) the local chapter has been pretty supportive.”

 

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