Three Take-Aways from the 2023 114th NAACP National Convention

August 25, 2023 Leave a comment

Earlier this summer, I walked into the Boston Convention Center with thousands milling about and locked eyes with a Black woman who had the kindest smile. As I learned later, she, like me, had been to hundreds of conferences in our lifetimes but we felt shy. The exhibits weren’t open yet so we started chatting about our work and lives. I learned she is the president of a local chapter of the NAACP in the south, and a Black woman president at that. Her power has been challenged daily by white power structures resisting change and by male leadership within her ranks who assume they know better, but she didn’t look tired. She was ready for the convention and she was proud of her youth leaders who were participating. She was here, at the NAACP convention, working to build a better future and that was all that mattered.

New friends at the NAACP convention

If the convention had stopped there, I would have learned something. When you get to my stage of life and attend events like this, you often spend time with people you already know. That day, I spent time with people I didn’t know and at workshops in which the content was unfamiliar. I came away enriched with a new relationship, with new ideas, and – most importantly – with new-found hope. And I learned a lot about what advocates working for change most need in these times. 

Here are three takeaways:  

  1. These times are not new, and we have the people and tools to break through this painful America we are living in right now. Shavone Arline-Bradley, president of the National Council of Negro Women, brought the house down at the women’s luncheon when she ran down the list of conservative white supremacists that Black leaders have reckoned with  – including George Wallace, former Governor of Alabama, who was an ardent advocate for school segregation in the 60s and 70s. Despite his efforts to keep in place Plessy v. Ferguson, which legalized school segregation in 1896, it was overturned 58-years later by the US Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. She argued that we have seen the likes of supremacists like Donald Trump and Ron Desantis before and we have stopped their progress through organizing, get out the vote efforts, and in the courts. And she credited the strategy and strength of Black women who waged these fights.
  1. The climate crisis must be viewed as immediate and dangerous, and as a critical racial justice issue. Boston environmental and racial justice activist Reverend Mariama White-Hammond and other climate leaders clearly laid out the climate and weather shifts that we are now facing. We learned that the impacts are disproportionately centered in Black, Brown, and low-income communities where residents don’t have access to sufficient air conditioning or plentiful and drinkable water in hot conditions, or places to go when flooding hits apartments and homes because of poor water mitigation systems.

    As I listened to the inequities, I realized that there should be no “change” in climate change because it’s now a crisis, and there is no “threat” because climate chaos is already damaging our cities and rural communities in the form of extreme heat, wildfires, floods, and droughts. What gets in my way and the way of others who are in this fight is that it’s just so hard to face. We need to stare the climate reality in the eyes, and as indigenous people and people rooted to land know, we must focus on healing our planet and taking the best care of it we can. 
  1. We must bring young people to our tables. There were hundreds of youth at the convention, all attending workshops and participating in events designed to develop their leadership at all levels of the NAACP and in local communities. It was clear from the panel conversations and the myriad of people I spoke with that if we’re going to fight modern-day supremacists and their successors, we need young people leading the way. And we need to train and support them with strategies, tools, and resources for social change and racial justice.  Our legacy will continue through their passion and ideas and we have a responsibility to support them, teach them what we know, learn what we don’t, and follow their great ideas.  

I am walking away inspired by the knowledge that we absolutely have what it takes for the fights ahead, as long as we continue to build the strength of our networks and prioritize the leadership and energy of young people.  We can – and we will – do this. 

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