AG gets rousing welcome at NAACP convention

Posted July 14, 2009 11:39 a.m. EDT
Updated July 15, 2009 4:29 p.m. EDT

Dr. Allen Mask is attending the 100th annual convention of the NAACP in New York. He will file daily reports on his experiences.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The nation's oldest civil rights organization looks to be reborn. Membership is now at approximately 600,000 members, down from its peak in 1964 but about 150,000 ahead of its nadir 10 years ago. Attendance at this conference is a record breaker, topping some 5,000 people. True story: coming off the elevator last night heading to the evening session, the meeting corridor was so packed we had to squeeze people OFF the elevator to allow the elevator door to close.

Today they treated him like a rock star. No, I'm not talking about Mick Jagger, Steven Tyler or Lenny Kravitz. You should have been here to witness the commotion as Eric Holder, the first African-American United States Attorney General was ushered into the luncheon. He received a boisterous standing ovation as he entered the room. A spine-tingling version of the Negro National Anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was lead by New York tenor Lawrence Craig. After a series of greetings, including a welcome by Rodney G. Moore, the president of the National Bar Association, Holder took the stage. He was polite but direct, articulate but not tied to a script, folksy but not too casual and steadfast in his theme of fairness for all Americans. He was accompanied by his 11-year-old son and emphasized the importance of parents teaching their kids responsibility at an early age. Then, he spoke of our obligations as citizens to insure fairness and equality for all Americans. He praised the work of both Clarence and Juanita Jackson Mitchell as pioneers in the civil rights movement.

Rounding out today's menu of speakers were David Paterson, governor of New York; Sen. Kristin E. Gillibrand (D-NY) and Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-NY).

Seminars included "The Great Silence: The Impact of HIV/AIDS on African-American Women." I learned the number 1 cause of death for African-American women ages 24-35 is HIV/AIDS. The average age of death from HIV/AIDS is 48 years old. Monica Sweeny, commissioner of the New York Department of Health, talked about the importance of prevention. She outlined a series of steps that should be taken, starting with our children, 48% of whom will have had sex by the time they finish high school. One of the panelists, Dr. Rose Blackburne, sat with me at lunch. She left her OB-GYN private practice six years ago to do administrative medicine and research with the Quintiles Corporation (based in RTP) and to allow her more time to work with the NAACP National Health Committee.

Tomorrow brings more internal NAACP work, including the election of national officers and board members. The Rev. Dr. William Barber, president of the North Carolina conference, spoke at the Region V session this morning. North Carolina is well represented by Barber because he always has a clear, well-articulated message delivered with a force that projects well in these large ballrooms. Notable speakers tomorrow include the Michael Steele, chairman of the Republican National Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Judge and TV personality Greg Mathis.