People may disagree or their eyes glaze over when somebody says, “One person can make a difference,” but that is exactly what happened two years ago when about two dozen individuals began to plan the Virginia State Conference NAACP 83rd Annual Convention, which will be held in Portsmouth Oct. 26-28.
Specifically, about 15 volunteers and three staff members have been working for two years to put the finishing touches on a conference that aims to be entertaining, instructive, and inspirational. The conference will be held at the Renaissance Portsmouth-Norfolk Waterfront Hotel. The keynote speakers include Actor Danny Glover, Gov. Ray Northam, Congressman Bobby Scott, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. Vendor sites are still available but the deadline to register as a vendor is Oct. 5.
“People who come this year will find the Virginia State Conference NAACP is growing younger,” said Linda Thomas, event, and developer manager for the Virginia State Conference NAACP 83rd Annual Convention. Thomas was the keynote speaker at the Chesapeake NAACP Freedom Fund Luncheon last weekend.
“We have an increased number of millennials who are bringing fresh ideas and donating their time and talent to expand civil rights advocacy,” Thomas said, estimating that about a fourth of the volunteers who are planning this event are under age 35.
This year’s annual conference will focus on an array of issues including police reforms, voter suppression, and economic development. Concerns about these three issues led committee members to choose this year’s theme, “It’s Enough! All or Nothing.”
Thomas said, “People should also come to this convention to have access to congressional representatives such as Congressman Bobby Scott, Gov. Ralph Northam, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.”
Gov. Ralph Northam will deliver the keynote address at the leadership luncheon (Sat. Oct. 27 at 12:30 p.m.).
NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson will deliver the keynote address at the gala (Sat. Oct. 27 at 7 p.m.) Danny Glover will make a special presentation at the gala on Saturday night. (Final confirmation on Glover’s appearance is pending).
The Virginia State NAACP is under the presidency of Rev. Kevin Chandler and has about 20,000 members, Thomas said. At least 200 youth and adult delegates have already registered for the three-day convention. Guests and supporters will also attend.
The Portsmouth branch which is headed by James Boyd, president, created the “provocative” theme for this year’s conference. Several years ago, it successfully bid and was selected as the state conference site for 2018. “They did a lot of development work and came up with this theme,” she explained.
Thomas said, “It is an apt theme” because the NAACP has existed nationally since 1909. In Virginia, it has existed since 1935.
“During that time we have prayed, we have marched, protested, petitioned, and lobbied,” she said. “And although we have come a long way, we have much ground to cover. We have persisted in standing up and speaking truth to power but now we have made a definitive decision to make as the largest and oldest civil rights organization: We will wait no longer for change. This is that moment where we have committed ourselves to what President Obama defined as the fierce urgency of now.”
The conference will include numerous forums including one on law enforcement. “So our attendees will gain a better understanding of how to make the law work for them,” Thomas explained.
“We hear excuses as to why we don’t see a more proactive approach regarding reforms in law enforcement,” she said. “So we will host a law enforcement forum at the convention. Our attendees will gain a better understanding of how to make the law work for them.”
Years ago, the NAACP launched “The 411 on the 50,” an NAACP initiative that aimed to train African-Americans how to safely converse and interact with law enforcement. “Now we are promoting that there must be a change – there must be reforms in law enforcement to increase the sensitivity and awareness of implicit bias that puts our community at great risk,” Thomas said.
Thomas pointed to a second issue that will be front and center at the upcoming conference. “We have also had enough of voter suppression,” she said. “To empower our community we will have extensive training on civic engagement, voter registration, voter empowerment, and the get-out-the-vote effort. This coming election is critical to the forward momentum of democracy. And we must be front and center in our civic engagement efforts.”
A third issue on the agenda is economic development. Thomas said, “We in the NAACP have had enough of investing our nearly trillion dollars in economic power and having little to show for it. We must gain financial consciousness and intelligence about the power of our money. To that end, we will have presentations on the power of economic development in the African-American community.”
The conference will also include vendors, health and wellness displays, law enforcement displays, and more. Youth and college students will host numerous workshops.
There are still a few spots left for vendors. To reserve a space, vendors may phone the Virginia State NAACP at (804) 321-5678 by Oct. 5.
By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide