Before I write my article, let me say this for the record: If you are an African American, and live in Philadelphia, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, or Connecticut, you should definitely be in Philadelphia at this 106th National Convention. This is about you. This is about your rights - your family, neighborhoods. This is focusing on things that impact you. You need to be here. You need to be supporting this organization that has constantly and continuously laid its life on the line for you. This cannot be done by remote control. This requires us all to be a part of this process. There are issues being discussed that will have pivotal impact on your lives. It's not too late to be a part of this - Monday and Tuesday are the high points. Take the time out in the name of enlightened self interest and be a part of this powerful organization.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - NAACP - set the bar very high for its 106th National Convention, and then exceeded the mark. Sunday, July 12, 2015 was a history making day, information and action rich, leaving participants ready to get down to the business of developing viable ways and means of surmounting the challenge of "pursuing liberty in the face of injustice." A theme so profound and appropriate, and at the same time, a challenge that the venerable organization has been tackling since its inception.
How one does that in an atmosphere of the expansion of egregious miscarriages of justice perpetrated against Black men and women, either through false arrests, police brutality and murder, forcible foreclosures of Black owned properties, substandard homes, schools, health facilities, neighborhoods, rising unemployment, and massacres of innocent Black citizens, is what they are tackling over the next few days. The end result will be an action plan that the members will then carry forth back to their respective chapters to implement in the days, weeks and months to come.
Highlights of Sunday's epochmaking roster of events included a Women's Empowerment Forum and Brunch that featured a keynote speech from Marilyn Mosby, Esq., Baltimore, MD's dynamic State Attorney, who indicted all six of the police officers in the violent death of Freddie Gray - who brutally beaten to death after having been arrested and hauled into a police wagon. The youngest chief prosecutor of any major city in America, she spoke eloquently of her challenges in being elected to the position; and how what she has learned and surmounted is key to how women can maximize their own skills, talents, will, and abilities to accomplish what ever they want. (I would be horribly remiss if I didn't mention that she is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority).
|Marilyn Mosby, Esq, Baltimore, MD State Attorney|
The esteemed Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the legal arm of the NAACP hosted a day long series of continuing education seminars that empaneled some of the tops in their fields, covering such subjects as "The Role of Prosecutors in Police Brutality Cases; Title VI and Racism on College Campuses; Ethics: Working with Outside Counsel.
One of the most important legal issues under scrutiny by the NAACP/LDF was Open Internet: Verizon v. FCC: Net neutrality, which has become pretty much a buzz word, was the focus of the Open Internet session. Panelists Hazeen Y. Ashby, Esq, Director of the Washington Bureau of the National Urban League and executive editor of the State of Black America; Kim M. Keenan, Esq., President & CEO Minority Media and Telecom Council in Washington DC; and Hilary O. Shelton, Director NAACP Washington Bureau & Senior VP for Advocacy and Policy.
Hazeen Ashby, Esq., further explained the concern by showing how access to broadband may be divided along economic lines - anyone making less than $30,000 a year most likely would not have broadband in their homes; while there's a 30% chance of those making between $30,000 to $50,000 annually, and an almost 100% chance of those who make $75,000 and above. 28% of African Americans are living in poverty. Even though a 300 page report has been generated in reference to the broadband, net neutrality issue, no discussion about how those in poverty will get access has been included. "We know that without access to internet, without access to broadband at home, we will only continue the cycle of poverty."
Hilary Shelton weighed in, outlining the actions as Senior Vice President of Advocacy and Policy for the NAACP - have been meeting with the FCC and service providers. The real issue centers around content providers and service providers. The content providers include Google, Microsoft, etc.; service providers include Comcast, Verizon, AT&T - how things are monitored. The issues center around who brings the most/best service; who gets to do the most expansion, and the quality of that service. The issue of build out of their services, "which also includes job creation - good living wage jobs," according to Shelton, who further states: "AT&T is the largest unionized telecom in the country." The focus is on whether or not these providers under Title Two will be able to pick and choose, or will they have to provide service on an equal and affordable basis no matter what the neighborhood or the economic standing of its residents looks like.
|Hilary O. Shelton|
An equally weighty matter, and one that is impacting Black voters throughout the US, was the final panel discussion of the day, "Continuing the Fight for Voting Rights & the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act." Panelists included Leah Aden, Esq., Assistant Counsel NAACP LDF, New York, and Julie Houk, Esq., Special Voting Counsel, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington, DC.
On the eve of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act being signed into law (August 6, 1965) by then President Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Supreme Court has seen fit to strike down Section 5 - the most essential portions of the act - leaving Black voters disenfranchised and once again vulnerable to the racist laws that had originally been enacted to prevent us from exercising our rights as American citizens. The situation could not be more dire. In focusing on Shelby County, AL, the Subprime Court Decision and section five of the voting rights act, and what's happened in the past two years since they struck it down.
The original Voting Rights, the Fifteenth Amendment, was adopted in 1871 - however, it was not enforced. It was not until 1965 that real voting rights was granted to Black citizens across the nation, after many people had died fighting for those rights during the fifties and sixties. Section Two is the general prohibition against discriminatory practices, and is still in effect today. Sections 5 and 4B were seriously impacted by the Shelby County decision. Section 5 covered the process of having to submit to the Department of Justice any proposed changes in voting process, location, dates, etc., before they were enacted so that the department could whether or not they had a deleterious effect on the right to vote. What's important to know about Section 5 is that it required the jurisdiction to prove that their proposed changes were not discriminatory, and would not circumvent the right to vote of people in the effected jurisdiction. Such things as changing the location, date, time of opening of the polling places, requiring special identification or classification in order to vote or other egregious acts. Now that Section 5 has been struck down under the mistaken concept that it is no longer necessary, the burden of proving discriminatory policies now rests with the victims - requiring expensive, long and drawn out litigation. The NAACP LDF has been continuously fighting, and in many cases winning, these cases - but some of the most racist states - Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, and others are still coming up with new ways to disenfranchise Black voters.
According to Leah Aden, Esq, "I can't impress enough how serious this year is. This is the 50th anniversary of the voting rights passage, this is the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, where people were killed, humiliated, beaten - all to advance our right to vote. And if this is not the year that we're going to be motivated to advance voting rights and extend the concept, then we are pretty much out of luck. THE TIME IS NOW!!!"
According to Aden, it is not by accident that we are witnessing an assault on our voting rights; it's because of the changing nature of this country. There are things that we can do to fight back and should be doing. Section Two was not struck down by the Supreme court that is still viable and can still be used. There are things that the federal government can do, as well as lawyers, and ordinary citizens going forth to defend the gains we have won and to advance voting rights.
As Aden so appropriately stated, the reason for the assault on our rights to vote stem from the election results of 2008 and 2012, when we overwhelmingly elected Barack Obama as the First Black President of the United States. Our power both overwhelmed and frightened the white infrastructure. We turned out in record numbers. The 2010 Census revealed the emerging People of Color nation; we were changing democracy, and we would soon become the majority. So basically what they have done is set it up to prevent people from either registering, or voting through a series of bogus laws. "These forms are set up by elected officials and are coming at us in a myriad of forms from all different directions." Some of them include the requirement for voter ID, change of polling places, and barriers to voting.
Aden recommends that we begin to be the eyes and ears in our own communities, and put them on notice that we are not only aware of what they are doing, by calling them out, but begin to gather petitions and evidence against those jurisdictions that are taking major swipes at local area residents' rights to vote. "We see you, we see what you are proposing, and we are watching out for you...we're coming after you!" Texas is one of the most egregious - with a law that allows a concealed hand gun license as a valid ID for voting, but will not allow students to use their identifications to do the same.
Bringing the issue closer to home, New York State Assemblymember Latrice M. Walker revealed that New York State has just recently purged over 160,000 voters from their rolls, allegedly because they had not voted in an election in the past two years. It was not known whether or not any of the voters were notified, or if a roster of those names have been maintained or revealed - so it's not just the southern states that are committing crimes against our rights to vote.
Of course, concommitant with that is our responsibility to get out and make sure that each and every African American 18 and older is not only registered to vote, but actively voting regardless of what the election may be for.
Aden also spoke of the issue of using "at large" elections to prevent predominantly Black communities from electing their own people. When a candidate is running at large, it lessens the impact of the vote from within his or her own constituency. This is one of the factors that has played out in Ferguson and other predominantly Black areas surrounded by predominantly white areas.
The pressure is on to get Congress to reinstate the Voting Rights Amendment Act and the Voting Rights Advancement Act, Each bill is different, but represent responses by Congress to what the Supreme Court did, which was to physically undo the work of Congress by stripping Section 5 of being operable; it will provide new coverage provision. It will ultimately restore notice of voting changes, because thousands of voting changes are proposed across the country....and will strengthen it as well."
The highpoint of the evening was the Open Public Mass Meeting, when thousands of convention goers came together to be greeted by Congressman Chaka Fattah, Mayor Michael Nutter, and Philadelphia NAACP President Min. Rodney Muhammad. With the highpoint of the event being the keynote speech by Roslyn M. Brock, Chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors.
The entire program for the evening was already charged with energy and enthusiasm, as evidenced by the New York Contingency, led by the great Hazel Dukes, Dr. Marcella Maxwell, Karen Boykin Towns, Geoffrey Eaton, and others. The event was hosted by Leon W. Russell, Chair of the 106th Annual Convention Planning Committee, and Vice Chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors.
The nearly standing room only even was regaled by gospel songs performed by the Nick Reynolds and Family Affair Choir of Philadelphia.
Roslyn Brock left the audience on such a high note, extolling the virtues and accomplishments of the NAACP and the fact that when things looked the worst, the darkest and the most dire, the NAACP was always there in the middle of the fray, pressing onward for justice - for liberty and freedom - for the rights of all!
What a wonderful way to start off a Sunday, energized and ready to fact the agenda for Monday, which will include issues on Redistricting, The Role of Prosecutors in Criminal Justice Reform, Keynote Speaker President Cornell William Brooks, Esq., Governor Tom Wolf, Hon. Congressman G. K. Butterfield, US Senator Bob Casey and others.
This is History in the Making in Real Time - The NAACP - and You need to be a part of it.
Now that you know, what are you going to do?
Stay Blessed &