ATLANTIC CITY – After leaving a Jan. 8th, 2021 meeting with Joe Biden, NAACCP President Derrick Johnson felt encouraged by the President elect’s commitment to protecting voting rights, and today reasserted his belief in Biden on that critical front. “Our problem is not with this administration, it’s with the Senate,” Johnson said in response to a question by InsiderNJ here at the Convention Center at the commencement of the 113th annual NAACP conference.
The governing body has not moved the bill. “The senate is acting as a stalemate,” Johnson said. “That’s why this midterm election is very important.” On November 8, 2022, 34 of the 100 senate seats are up for regular election. Currently, Democrats hold 50 of the seats and Republicans hold 50. A cloture vote late last year on the Freedom to Vote Act produced a result of 51 nays and 49 ayes.
At the kickoff press conference this morning, an NJ.com reporter followed up with a question to Johnson about, the 25-year-old Black man killed in a hail of police gunfire in the Ohio city of Akron last month. Walker was shot more than 40 times.
Can the NAACP exert influence to rein in gun violence?
“Once again, this is why this midterm election is so important,” said the national organization president. “The Congress passed sweeping reforms and in the Senate it stalemated. It stalemated for three reasons, Fist, local law enforcement don’t want to see change. The sheriff’s association blocked it though the police unions actually support it. Second, there s a lot of money in the gun game. There’s money in this process and it’s dirty. Third, there is a movement promoting a false narrative of what is protected by the Constitution. When the the Second Amendment was written there were not AK-47s and AR-15s. No one contemplated this level of chaos.
“Folks are misreading the Constitution, the industry is profiting from it, and the Senate is scared of their shadows because they’re more concerned with getting elected than keeping people safe,” Johnson added.
A sense of urgency and vigorous pushback by NAACCP leaders against Republican crusades and canards drove much of the agenda at the formal launch of this year’s “This is Power” convention.
Voting rights. Reproductive rights. Economic justice. Gun safety and security. The right to a free and equal education.
These issues rose to the fore.
“It is our opportunity to question whether this is the America we want to see or the America others want to drive us to,” Johnson told reporters.
Leon Russell, chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors, said the country’s largest civil rights organization has an obligation to confront multiple issues and lead and “speak for our people.”
“We have issues that seem to pop up on a daily basis,” said Russell. “The pandemic kept us at home. Now
we have to use the energy we have built up to make the change necessary for our people to move forward. ‘This is Power.’ You are that power – 2,200 units across the nation and the members in those individual units. As we go through the program for the next few days, we will take time to explain to you and to the nation how we will use this power. It is time for us to find our voices and help our communities to find their voices, and to remind the naysayers who went to the polls two years ago who now say ‘I changed who was in office, how come the world hasn’t changed for the better?'”
Russell said the backers of Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris went to sleep on Jan. 5th.
They will stand and fight, he vowed.
“The NAACP will remind the world, to ensure that this will be a more perfect union,” said the board chairman. We are the people here for the 113th year to make policy and program for this association. We will leave this hall and leave this city charging our units to move forward to make change across this nation.”
The national leaders of the organization, among them past President Hazel Dukes, hailed NAACP NJ President Richard Smith, Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small and NAACP Atlantic City Chapter President Council Vice President Kaleem Shabazz for exerting the leadership tp bring this year’s conference to the seaside New Jersey gambling mecca.
Smith (pictured, above) acknowledged that African Americans have come far on their journey.
But the pandemic revealed deep systemic inequities, he said.
“When white America catches a cold, black Americans catch pneumonia; when white Americans catch COVID, black Americans die,” said the New Jersey-based leader.
In defiance of critics who questioned the citing of this year’s event in Atlantic City, he invoked the historical relevance of holding the conference in the same city where civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer said she was “sick and tired of being sick and tired” at the 1964 Democratic Convention.
“We still are sick and tired of being sick and tired, and look forward to setting the stage to consider voting, student debt, reproductive rights, non-segregated schools, health, and environmental justice,” Smith said.
Mayor Small welcomed the NAACP leaders to Atlantic City.
“It’s a great day in Atlantic City,” he said, promising a Saturday night bash at the Claridge.
“The President gave us our marching orders, but we also want to have fun,” said the mayor. “We have this opportunity. Maybe it will be an executive decision to run it back and have it here [in Atlantic City] again next year.”
Small credited Shabazz with undertaking the local work to get the conference to come here.
The council vice president (and local NAACP chapter president) said he was humbled.
As an elected official in a poverty-stricken city, he addressed the responsibility of Black leaders where they live.
“The ward you are in is the ward I represent,” Shabazz (pictured, above) said. “At the Convention Center people come together. But near here is Stanley Homes, the city’s largest public housing complex, with 424 units. Many of the children there are on reduced lunch and free lunch. Many people are receiving supplemental income from the government. They want to be here today and we are speaking for them. After the convention is over, after the buntings come down, those of us who are elected, who have the ability to make ordinances and laws, must make sure that we are using this is power to make a way out of no way.”