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Gov. David A. Paterson opened the first plenary ceremony of the NAACP’s Centennial Conference Monday with a reminder that liberation for African Americans is the liberation of America. That message was indeed the reigning theme of the morning.
Paterson joined several speakers who underscored the relevancy of the NAACP by focusing not only on the organizations accomplishments from the past, but on the challenges that lay ahead for African Americans and people of all colors.
“It is the [same] NAACP that we needed 100 years ago that we need now more than ever,” said Rep. Charles Rangel.
Speakers told attendees at the New York Hilton that the original purpose of the NAACP was the dismantling of color lines. Underscoring that fact was a continuous reminder that members should throw their support behind Judge Sonia Sotomayor, whose congressional confirmation hearings in Washington, D.C. started this morning.
Former NAACP presidents and executive directors Kweisi Mfume (1996-2004), Bruce Gordon (2005-2007), and Benjamin Lawson Hooks (1977-1993) warned the audience that the election of President Barack Obama is not the organizations final victory. “This historic election should empower us to do more,” said Mfume.
And more is what newly appointed NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous wants to do. Jealous plans to implement the original goals of the NAACP by advancing the cause of human rights. He reminded the audience of 2,300 people that while the NAACP is a very black organization in terms of its participants, but it is not an organization solely for black people.
“There are white people trapped in multigenerational poverty,” said Jealous. “In addition to there being gender conscious and race conscious affirmative action, there should be class conscious affirmative action.”
Lobbying for fair lending practices, smarter strategies on criminal justice policy, and fair unionization policies for businesses are among the goals that Jealous has set forth during his presidency.
“[The NAACP] will always be there to enforce basic civil rights, but the big battles, for good schools and healthcare for all [are] human rights battles,” says Jealous. “In order to win human rights victories, we don’t need so much litigation as we need community [organization].
However, in his speech, Jealous, 36, emphasized a necessity to include more young people his age and younger in these social justice fights, saying the position of young people in a movement is a sign of whether an organization is “merely ordinary or truly extraordinary.”
Organizing youth for the causes of the NAACP in the manner that Obama did during his historic campaign for presidency will require a campaign of its own for the NAACP. Perhaps in the years to come the NAACP’s youngest president can take a primed youth movement and bring justice for all Americans.
Marcia A. Wade is the reporter for BlackEnterprise.com.