Feature Photo: NAACP National President and CEO Derrick Johnson speaks at a news conference at the Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall on Thursday, April 28.
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By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – The NAACP will not be caught in a phony crisis and attempts to pit it against other organizations, its President and CEO Derrick Johnson said Thursday at an introductory news conference formally announcing its national convention in Atlantic City.
The NAACP had gone virtual for the past two years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The NAACP said it hopes to bring upwards to 10,000 delegates and spend millions in Atlantic City, a majority-minority city, during its convention July 14-20.
The convention, a popular stop for the nation's top politicians during election years and mid-terms, could prove to be that again. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris have been invited to attend.
Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., one of Biden's closest confidants and one of the first to endorse him for the presidency, will receive the NAACP's highest honor, the Spingarn Award, during the convention.
During the news conference, numerous references were made to Biden selecting Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court. Jackson was confirmed earlier in April by the Senate, making her the first African American woman to sit on the nation's highest court.
Johnson said there is burning issues the NAACP wants to push forward, from healthcare disparities exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic, equity concerns over numerous sectors and environmental justice.
What Johnson said he won't have time for are issues that he feels will derail the NAACP from its mission.
"People have approached me and asked some of the dumbest questions you could imagine," Johnson said. "One question was, what do you think about Black Lives Matter? As if we are in competition with our kids. Social justice isn't a competition. We appreciate young people finding their voices and will do all we can to protect their voices."
Johnson said the NAACP convention hosts the largest number of youth in a conference each year, along with its ACT-SO competition, which highlights African American achievement in high school students annually. The ACT-SO competition occurs just before the NAACP national convention, which will also be in Atlantic City.
"Movements are intergenerational," Johnson said. "We don't have time for us versus them propositions. Power is all of us standing together. This is power. And that power is our capacity to create a reality we would like to see for our communities."
Johnson said another false dichotomy that NAACP will reject is the notion that the "Defund The Police" call and support for law enforcement to protect communities are separate issues.
"[We want] to create a reality that we would like to see for our future, to create a reality where our seniors are protected and live in communities and not be afraid," Johnson said. "We're not foolhardy to go to this defund police conversation while at the exact same time police should be held accountable."
Leon Russell, chair of the NAACP board of directors, said the organization will address police brutality and how it should respond to it. The NAACP's national convention went virtual in 2020 and 2021, during the height of social unrest after the death of George Floyd and its pushback.
"We also understand that in the last three years, we've dealt with some of the most ridiculous abuses of police authority that our nation has had to come to grips with," Russell said. "We thought it ended with those eight-and-a-half minutes that was on the [Internet]. But every day since then, we see similar incidents across this country."
"Our power is to raise that issue and to say to our communities, we have to do something about that."
Russell said while some states, particularly those controlled by Republicans, have focused on the anti-abortion legislation in anticipation of the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court, he said the NAACP's main focus will be what happens to children after they are born – particularly in education.
"Unfortunately, we have a lot of folks who are worried about what's going on in somebody's womb for all the wrong reasons," Russell said. "They only seem to be concerned about what happens in the womb. They never consider what happens once the child is born.
"We have an obligation to use our power to raise that issue, and make sure that people understand when we leave Atlantic City that education has to be a priority for us."
When asked about the falsehoods surrounding Critical Race Theory and the wave of state and local legislations that threatened the study of Black History and race in the country, Johnson said he did not want to get sidetracked on the issue but hopes some of the concerns can be taken care of at the ballot box.
"What you are seeing is the outcome of elections at state legislative bodies," Johnson said. "We are targeting 22 states that we have invested heavily in turning the tide on how those legislative bodies are composed. We have individuals elected to office who understand the gravity of public policy and how it affects our future.
"The outcome of this election cycle will be highly dependent on the redistricting process which we're monitoring state by state. Once that is settled, it will give us a true compass of what the potential is in every state to address the very things that you're talking about."
Michael Turner, chair of the national convention, described the two years of doing the virtual national convention like Henry Ford trying to create the first automobile and learning on the fly. He said while those efforts proved successful, it was important to get back to in-person conventions.
He said Atlantic City provides an ideal venue for the NAACP to launch in-person conventions again.
Question: What impact do you think the NAACP convention this summer will have on country in regard to race, civil rights sand policing? Answer in the Discussion Section below.
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