NAACP Keynote Address
Chairman Roslyn M. Brock
Public Mass Meeting
NAACP 102nd Annual Convention
July 24, 2011
Thank you, Leah for that gracious introduction.
Thank you to the members of the National Board of Directors for the privilege to serve as the 14th Chairman of this great Association and to Chairman Emeriti Myrlie Evers- Williams and Julian Bond for their continued leadership and service. To President Jealous and the members of the national staff, thank you for your dedication and commitment to the mission and the work of the NAACP.
A special thank you also to my family for their love and support.
Delegates, it’s a joy to be with you in Los Angeles at the 102nd convening of the NAACP under the banner of “Affirming America’s Promise.” Over the past three years, we’ve travelled literally across the country holding our national conventions. We began our second century in 2009 in the great state and city of our birth, the big apple- New York, New York. In 2010, we visited the heartland in the city of fountains Kansas City, Missouri. And now, we’re in the city of Angels, Los Angeles, California, where the sun sets on the continental United States.
Our host, the Los Angeles Branch of the NAACP was founded in 1914, and has a rich and proud history of advancing social justice in this community. In 1919, when America was at war, the Branch advocated for the reversal of the County Supervisor’s decision to bar “colored students” from studying nursing at the Los Angeles County Hospital. Its argument – that as Americans, we could be saving lives in Europe – reminding us that our patriotism knows no other colors then red, white, and blue.
We celebrate our rich history and grand achievements and congratulate the New York City and Boston branches on their Centennial anniversaries this year. We continue to find inspiration in their victories and their ongoing fight for justice. Congratulations to Presidents Dr. Annie B. Martin and Michael Curry.
We also celebrate the 75th Anniversary of our Youth and College Division. For three quarters of a century, the NAACP has embraced and included young people in the struggle for freedom. Many of us today learned to lead and to serve through the NAACP Youth and College Division. Indeed, I am a product of the wisdom of our predecessors who, while combating lynching, defeating segregation and forcing their way into the ballot box, also coached and taught and inspired young people. We must continue to cultivate the capacity and groom the greatness in our young people so they can carry the torch beyond where our eyes can see and their minds can imagine. Congratulations to the NAACP Youth and College Division.
The mission of the NAACP is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. Our vision is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race.
For more than a century we’ve been on a journey to fulfil this mission not because we want to “stay in business.” We’re on this journey because forces of regression in our nation are doing everything in their power to erode civil rights successes. The social and economic challenges we face today are real- not figments of our imaginations. The NAACP is committed to maintain in the fight for justice and equality by protecting the victories our forefathers and mothers died to secure.
On Wednesday evening, we will be screening the movie “The Help,” which will be formally released across the country on August 10. The movie is based on the best-selling novel by Kathryn Stockett about two African American
domestic workers in Jackson, Mississippi who risked everything to tell their stories to a young, white writer during the 1960’s. The women develop a sisterhood that transcends the racial lines that define them. It is a deeply moving story about the ability of individuals to create change. In an inspiring moment in the film, the writer’s mother, reflecting on her own life, tells her crusading daughter, “They say that courage sometimes skips a generation.”
What a powerful, probing and provocative thought – “courage sometimes skips a generation.” Courage according to Aristotle, “is the fuel that gives us strength to make our journey through life. It is the first among human qualities because it guarantees all the others.” I believe Aristotle’s words hold the second century challenge for today’s NAACP. If courage is the fuel that enables us to find inner strength, bravery and fortitude required to confront danger, difficulty, hardship and opposition, NAACP we must ensure that courage does not skip this generation!
Our forebears gave us the framework upon which to build and it took tremendous courage to endure degradation, segregation, discrimination and racism. But the brave few-many from the NAACP-took seriously the words of the Prophet Jeremiah and believed in a long distant promise of a future filled with hope. “For I know the plans I have for you,” said the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah’s words became a ray of hope in a dark and desolate world. That ray of hope is still shining and directing our path on the road to justice and freedom. Courage, my friends must not skip this generation!
Throughout the history of the NAACP, the challenge has been gaining a seat at the table-at lunch counters, in workplaces, in business, in government, and wherever decisions that impact society are made.
CNN recently released its line-up of anchors, and it was virtually devoid of people of color. The NAACP paid attention and called them into question. How
can we understand the American story without embracing her rich diversity? How can we tell America’s story on the small screen and the big screen unless the people doing the researching, writing, directing and acting reflect the breath of this nation’s diversity. The demand for inclusion and representation is NOT yesterday’s news.
After decades of progress to open up access and make it easier for all Americans to vote, state legislatures in Wisconsin, Ohio, Kansas, and Florida are putting into place a web of suppressive and restrictive laws to make it harder if not impossible for many to vote: longer residency requirements, photo Ids and shorter voting periods. Fourteen of the 29 states with ID requirements are trying to make them more stringent. Are these updated versions of the poll tax? Or as President Clinton suggests, Is this a return to Jim Crow? We must re-double our efforts to reverse this pernicious trend.
From the Oval Office to the state houses of government to the city and county councils to the school boards across the country, we have strategized and struggled, to get seats at these influential tables. What concerns me today is that, having arrived at the tables, we are finding, again and again, that the tables are unstable and systematically failing.
The structures that should ensure equity and opportunity for all people in this nation are under assault. The deterioration of our community structures are at crisis proportions and that should alarm ALL of us. However, we cannot expect anybody to do anything for us that we are not prepared to do for ourselves. Courage must not skip this generation.
Three critical systems that should add quality and stability to the lives of all Americans are in trouble: our economic system, our health insurance system, and our education system. We are all concerned about many issues, but without fortifying these fundamental systems of community wellbeing, the others may not matter.
It will take courage for us to address the fragility and instability of these faltering systems that should serve all Americans. As the labor and civil rights leader, Cesar Chavez said, “We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” We know, and will never forget, that “Service to others is the rent we pay for the space we occupy.” We can’t let courage skip this generation.
The meltdown of America’s economic system in 2008 was a tremendous shock and sent a body blow to the entire country. We bailed out those who had gambled with our money in order to stabilize the economy for everyone. But while Wall Street is booming again, those of us on Main Street and the rest of us on the side street can get no relief or support. Across the country, black, brown and poor communities are suffering from disproportionately high unemployment, foreclosure, and dislocation. Here in California, the African American unemployment rates stand at 19.5%
It is as if America learned nothing from the near Depression of 2008. The rules of the game have NOT essentially changed and unless they do, another worse crisis will inevitably come to pass and no one will be in the mood for bailouts. If we do nothing, The Center for Responsible Lending calculates that an estimated 1.1 million black families will lose their homes by 2012.This is why the NAACP is pleased that Wells Fargo Bank and Bank of America have signed on to the NAACP Responsible Lending Principles allowing us to monitor their HMDA data.
We are advocating that additional banks sign on to these principles to ensure that financial practices of lending institutions are improving and fair with respect to borrowers of color.
It’s a sad commentary when economists report the astonishing fact that America does NOT have a wealth crisis. President Obama hosted a “billionaires’ summit” at the White House last week. There is enough money around to do all we need to do. But it will never be in the nation’s best interest for the top one percent to control as much wealth as the bottom 99 percent. We must have a fairer system of finance and taxation- unless we close the unconscionable wealth gap in our nation, our economic system is bound to fail.
The country is on the precipice of economic collapse because Tea Party Republicans are insisting on cutting government to the bone without any increase in taxes for the wealthy. We will work to give the President and the Congress the courage they need to do the right thing and restore economic fairness.
The NAACP will continue to do its part through our Financial Freedom Campaign by engaging and training our units to offer financial education workshops in communities across this nation empowering citizens with the tools they need to rebuild their credit, borrow responsibly, and save for retirement.
It will take courage to turn our economic system in the right direction and we all must do our part. Courage must not skip this generation!
America has a health care system that is in many ways is the envy of the world. This is something to celebrate and be proud of.
But America’s health insurance system is keeping far too many people from accessing our advanced health care system. President Obama and his administration made significant progress last year with the passage of the Affordable Care Act but even these advances are now under attack.
The NAACP has a long history of tackling health issues. As early as 1933, the Association advocated for safety net laws such as social security and health security. In 1965, the NAACP along with other national partners, advocated for the creation of National Health Insurance programs that were the precursors to modern day Medicare and Medicaid programs.
Today, these provisions are on the budget cutting table by both political parties. The assault on Medicaid and Medicare is a direct attack on the welfare of the nation’s poor, elderly and the disabled. The NAACP will not allow personal agendas to systematically dismantle America’s promise for her most vulnerable populations.
We are the only industrialized nation that does not guarantee access to healthcare as a right of citizenship. It will take courage-America’s courage-to see to it that ALL Americans have access to high quality, affordable health care.
The NAACP is also committed to utilizing its voice to sound the alarm on childhood obesity which has destined this young generation to be the first that will NOT outlive their parents. African American children in particular are more likely to be poor, obese, and live in unsafe communities resulting in reduced physical activity, harmful environmental factors, fewer supermarkets, and limited access to healthy foods. In September, we will release the NAACP Childhood Obesity Advocacy Manual and Workbook. It is a grass roots organizing tool that will prepare our units to address food deserts in Black communities; school nutrition and physical education policies; and built environment to create access for family to live healthier lives.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the emergence of the AIDS crisis. The medical community has made tremendous strides in the treatment of AIDS and in the prevention of HIV infection. Nationally, 1 in 5 individuals who have the disease are unaware of their status. The largest groups of the newly infected are young black gay and bi-sexual men and black women age 18-34. Every 9 and half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV. Regarding this critical issue, the NAACP is fighting for those who do not have a voice – the undiagnosed – by advocating for increased testing, education, and polices aimed at stopping the rates of new infections and increasing the access to care especially in communities of color.
We must find the courage to confront factors within our own communities that are contributing to rising infections. We must empower our sisters and stop stigmatizing our brothers. With critical conversations in our homes, places of work and houses of worship, we can end this crisis and we can end it now. Courage must not skip this generation!
Finally, we need the courage to advance our education system into the 21st century. Public education has been at the forefront of the NAACP’s mission since its inception. The tenacity of our forebears opened the doors to little rural schools and great universities. But our challenge today is to make those schools work for ALL children.
When you read that the NAACP is suing New York City over the issue of charter schools, it is NOT because we are opposed to charter schools. It is because we have come too far and struggled too long to let resources be distributed in a way that amply funds charter schools while starving traditional public schools, which are sometimes located in the very same building. Our priorities are misaligned when we invest more in developing smart phones and smart technologies then investing in developing smart children.
We will not stand for a system that only delivers a quality education to children who win a lottery to go to a charter. We didn’t fight racial segregation to end up with a school system that segregates on the basis of luck. We must “win the future” for our nation’s children by investing in an educational system that prepares them for the global marketplace. The NAACP will continue the fight for equity in public education and we will not let courage skip this generation!
Some people today, accuse the NAACP of promoting socialism because we are committed to fairness and responsibility for all people. It would appear they believe that poor people and people of color should not have good schools, good neighborhoods, good health care and good jobs. Since these accusers obviously don’t know what socialism is, let us take them to school quickly. Socialism is based on distributive economics and promotes systems where production is commonly owned and distribution is centrally controlled.
The NAACP does not promote socialism. We promote American idealism based on Fairness. Justice. Equity and Freedom.
These are not just bedrock principles of the NAACP, they are the founding principles of the United States of America. The Tea Party isn’t the only group that cares about founding principles. Labor organizer Bayard Rustin said, “Don’t waste your time with the 10 percent of people who are never going to agree with you. Work on the big, moveable middle.” That’s why we are reaching out to mainstream, fair-minded Americans to remind them that people of color care about liberty and justice for all; we care about the rule of law; we care about representative government; and yes we care about the Constitution. We died to defend it and will fight vigorously to “affirm America’s promise” for all her citizens.
The NAACP is inspired by the tenets of Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and many other faith traditions who believe that “to whom much is given, much is required.” For those who have benefited from good schools they should help others to have good schools. Those who have benefited from good neighborhoods should help others to have good neighborhoods. Those who have benefited from good health care should help others to have good health care. Don’t let courage skip this generation!
A spirit of equality, generosity and responsibility is not socialist. It is as American as apple pie. To embrace this spirit is the duty of every citizen of the United States of America where, as our Pledge of Allegiance declares, we are “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
In the final lines of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, he writes:
The truth is that we are not yet free; we have merely achieved the freedom to be free, the right to not be oppressed. We have not taken the final step of our journey, but the first step on a longer and even more difficult road. For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
At the dawning of the second century of the NAACP, we know, as Mandela said of South Africa, that we are not yet free, but have merely achieved the freedom to be free. We have fought a good fight, but we have not yet finished our course. We’ve got more rivers to cross. We’ve got more hills to climb. We have more battles to fight. And we have more victories to win.
NAACP, my promise to you as Chairman is to keep the courage, the spirit, and the faith of this movement alive.
This work is hard. But this work is right.
It’s not for the faint of heart. This work is for the brave.
Those who run, where some dare not go.
This work is not for the weary of spirit. This work is for the strong – For the race is not given to the swift, nor the battle to the strong but to those who endure until, the end – Those who will right the unrightable wrong.
My fellow freedom fighters – we must fight for the right without question or pause and be willing to walk into hell for this heavenly cause.
As the sun sets on the western shores, be not afraid for we will follow that star. No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.
NAACP – It will take courage to do what is right, and I believe at this hour,
This generation who sits in the board room when our parents sat in the mailroom; This generation– who sleeps in HOTEL suites when our parents merely swept the streets!
This generation who drives Bentleys, Porsches, Mercedes and Jags, when their parents had nothing but filthy rags.
Courage will not skip this generation!
If you remember nothing else, remember this — The future is calling- And with courage, the NAACP will answer!
Thank you and God Bless.