Dr. Allen Mask is attending the 100th annual convention of the NAACP in New York. He is filing reports on his experiences.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
As I took off this morning headed to much-anticipated NAACP 100th annual convention, it was surreal to see our President Barack Obama live on the small screen touring Ghana's Cape Coast Castle where slaves were imprisoned prior to being shipped against their will to the New World. The nation's oldest and most respected civil rights organization played a monumental role in the descendant of these slaves returning to the homeland as the leader of the most powerful nation in the world. And just think: he'll be addressing this convention in just five days.
Walking into the lobby of the Hilton Hotel at 6th Avenue and 54th Street, I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of the NAACP event. There were huge lines at the hotel registration desk and even larger lines at the conference registration headquarters. There are thousands of people here, mostly African-American but some Caucasians and Hispanic individuals in a joyous mood. Everyone, without exception, is kind and welcoming. I heard absolutely no complaints during my two-hour wait in line to receive my delegate credentials.
Saturday was dedicated to registration and orientation as well as a health symposium addressing issues of health care disparities and health care reform. Guest speakers included Dr. Valerie Montgomery Rice, dean of Meharry Medical College, and Dr. Caroline Britton, president of the National Medical Association.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
Opening session was a memorial breakfast and worship service in tribute to deceased NAACP officers and members. The place is packed to the brim without any vacant seats. It is good to see Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina State NAACP, and a number of familiar North Carolina delegates and members.
Rev. Al Sharpton, fresh from his rousing speech at the Michael Jackson memorial service, is the keynote speaker. He urges us not to take our freedom for granted.
He says: "We are no longer slaves but have to break the chain of slave psychology."
Sharpton says we have to see ourselves as heirs of the great traditions of our civil rights leaders. He talks about self-respect and abandoning even the casual use of the "n" word. He is particularly critical of rappers who continue to glorify the "n" word in their lyrics and messages.
Rev. Sharpton has mastered the art of having a conversation with the audience. He knows the importance of not talking too long. He is rewarded with a vibrant standing ovation at the conclusion of his speech.
The beautiful glossy program includes a memorial to "Those whom we have known and loved who died in the faith." The names of these warriors from across the country include my own dear father, Allen Mask, Sr. who passed in April of 2008. My father was a fervent NAACP supporter. He was the Richmond County NAACP membership chairman for decades and carried a card table, NAACP placard and receipt book wherever he went to recruit new members. The last national NAACP convention he attended was in New Orleans in 2001.
My mother, Gloria Mask, and I are here to a large degree to celebrate my family's dedication to the NAACP, dating back to my grandfather, JW Mask, Sr.'s involvement in the early 1900's. We salute the long list of hard-working civil rights leaders, particularly those from our home state of North Carolina, who have passed on this life. We thank them for their service in insuring human rights for all Americans.
The other highlight of the day for me was the Win Empowerment Forum/Brunch "Banking on US: A Financial Literacy Summit for Girls and Women." It was a powerful seminar on helping women (and men) of all ages to take control of their finances, protect assets and build wealth for their communities. Moderator was CNBC Business Reporter Sharon Epperson. Panelists included the well-respected Managing Director of Morgan Stanley, Carla Harris; Monique Morris, vice president of research for the NAACP, and Maurice Coleman, senior vice president of community banking for Bank of America. A fashion show featuring outfits of the l920s through the present was vintage NAACP. The scrumptious brunch was a bonus.
The evening session was a gathering of Who's Who in America: Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives; Charles Schumer (D-NY), Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York; Benjamin Todd Jealous, NAACP president and CEO, Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP board of directors, Earl Graves, publisher of Black Enterprise Magazine.
The crowd was so enormous the overflow had to be accommodated in the lobby with TV monitors. The excitement is palpable. Now you know you made the right decision not to miss this conference. You wish all of your friends and neighbors could be here! Words cannot describe fully the feeling of unity and camaraderie in the Hilton.
And guess what? The best is yet to come, including President Barack Obama himself on Thursday, July 16, 2009.