When you walk into the Hilton Hotel on Sixth Avenue in New York City, there is a buzz that is electric. Thousands of people, of varying ages and hues, from different corners of the United States, all with a different story but a common history, have gathered at what could be the greatest milestone of civil rights in this country–the 100th anniversary of the NAACP.
From Baton Rouge to Tallahassee, Texas to Minnesota, they have come in throngs. The largest convention the NAACP has seen in recent history, with well over 5,000 participants, this convention is one for the record books. The president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, and the president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, both were part of the very important discussion about Africa and the NAACP. Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder was the keynote speaker at the Clarence M. Mitchell Luncheon discussing the issues of justice in America. Dionne Warwick, Harry Belafonte, Jeffery Wright, Patti LaBelle and a host of other well-known artists and activists have participated in this weeklong convention, but most importantly, there is a new generation.
Everywhere you look, there are young people. The Act-SO competition brought out more youth this year than in years past. The talent and drive that these young people have is so promising for the organization and America.
Benjamin Todd Jealous is the president and CEO of this grand organization. Still a few years shy of his 40th birthday, he is a Columbia University graduate and a Rhodes Scholar. He brings not only youth and intellect, but passion and purpose. He knows the streets of Jackson, Mississippi, and the hills of California, from Harlem to Dallas and a bit of everything in between. He knows that the secret to the longevity of this institution is the young people.
He spoke in the opening session, saying, “But the reality is that at this time, in this house–where we are only led by either current young activists or former young activists–the generations from the baby boomers on down need to come together and figure out how we are truly going to put young people out front because the fight for good schools, the fight for good jobs, the fight for healthcare for all, the fight to crush this school to prison pipeline is their fight.”
President Jealous has sounded the trumpets. The spirit has been renewed. We are at the dawn of a new era.
This convention’s energy has other roots as well. There are the hundreds of 75-plus-year-olds who have attended this convention loyally over the decades. But this time it is different. This time, they come with the knowledge that the man in the White House has the same skin color they do. They come with the knowledge that there is a seeker of justice in the Justice Department. They come with all of their dreams and aspirations now laid at the feet of the generations after them. They come with a new hope, a new promise and a new outlook on the future. The energy is real. It is palpable, and it can be harnessed and used to thrust the NAACP into its rightful place.
As President Jealous said, “We are simply making a way for everybody, from [my 3-year-old daughter] Morgan on up. And so as we stand here on the eve of our second century, I invite you to join me in dreaming big dreams–even bigger than the monumental problems that we face at this moment in our society–and to begin this journey by taking steps”