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NAN convention bigger and better than ever

Herb Boyd | 4/20/2014, 12:25 p.m.
Barack Obama at the 2014 National Action Network convention Chris Griffiths photo

It would take a Paul Bunyan to get his arms around the proliferation of ideas and proposals germinated at the 16th Annual National Action Network Convention last week at the Sheraton Hotel in midtown Manhattan. Over the four-day span there were nearly fifty events, including panels, awards, special meetings and presentations, and featured speeches from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama.

During the ribbon cutting ceremony to open the convention, Mayor Bill de Blasio praised the work of NAN’s president the Rev. Al Sharpton, citing him as “a blessing,” and adding that “his work gets more powerful with every passing year.”

The same can be said about the convention, and if a Bunyan is needed to embrace all the activities, then a team of reporters is necessary to capture the essential points, debates, arguments, and conclusions that pervaded each of the panels, and even some of the hallway discussions, some as lively and long as the lines outside the hotel and the one inside of folks hoping to get tickets for Obama’s appearance.

The length and overlap of panels, the usual bane at conventions and conferences, was a challenge, so it was often a hard choice to make between rushing from the New York Ballroom to the Riverside Ballroom and hoping there was still room available. That was particularly problematic on Thursday when an engrossing media panel interfered with attendance to the assembly of Black intellectuals grappling with the issues troubling Black America.

One of the big surprises at the media panel was the presence of our publisher, Elinor Tatum; she was not listed in the program. If she was sitting in for the absence of George Curry, then he had an able and most astute designated panelist and she stressed the complacency and the absence of a movement in the wake of a so-called post-racial society. And Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, echoed Tatum’s charge, insisting that “we must cover the movements…show their activism.”

If there were a crowd-pleasing response to the role of the media in Crafting the Social Narrative, the panel’s title, it belonged to veteran radio and television commentator Joe Madison, popularly known as “The Black Eagle.” Well, the Eagle was soaring and he said he was particularly incensed upon arrival to New York City from D.C. to see the headlines of the two major dailies castigating Sharpton. “It’s like Malcolm X said,” he began, “the media can make the guilty look innocent and the innocent look guilty.”

Most of the panelists that included Jay Dow of WPIX-TV; Desiree Rogers, president and CEO of Johnson Publishing Company; Jonathan Alter, former senior editor of Newsweek magazine, had something to say about the old bugaboo—objective journalism. “I don’t believe in left or right, but right and wrong,” concluded Heuvel.

By the time you navigate the crowd to the Riverside Ballroom a crowbar is needed to get another person in the room, which means it was only possible to grab bits and pieces of the always enlightened comments from a lineup of doctors—Peniel Joseph, Michael Eric Dyson, Farah Griffin, James Peterson, Marsha Darling, Ivory Johnson, and Eddie Glaude. Entering in the middle of a debate, it took no deep thinking to understand Griffin’s message about the role of an intellectual who must “be willing to be unpopular.” Dyson felt compelled to say a few things in support of Tavis Smiley. “He has provided a platform for those who have been critical of him,” Dyson explained.