Keynote Address – Chairman Roslyn M. Brock – Public Mass Meeting – 103rd Annual NAACP Convention

The Face Of Hope
“But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and I offer no apologies for my race or for my color.”

Chairman Brock addresses the 103rd NAACP Annual Convention

Thank you Vivica! Wow! I am humbled by that introduction – humbled and inspired to do even more to implement the NAACP’s agenda with a sense of urgency.

The standard thing to say when you are introduced by a nine-year old is, “She is our future!” But here she is now, right in the present. When I look at Vivica, I am confident that courage will not skip her generation. Let’s give her another huge round of applause.

Officers and members of the NAACP National Board, President/CEO
Jealous, national office staff, delegates, observers and friends of the
NAACP, welcome to Houston, Texas and the opening session of the 103rd
Annual Convention.

I’m blessed to have my parents with me tonight and members of my
extended family. Thank you for your unconditional love and support and
especially, your patience with me as I have engaged in this 28 year labor of
love with the NAACP.

This evening, we are here in Houston and it is most fitting that I pay tribute to one of our fallen NAACP members, the Honorable Dr. Annie B. Martin. She left us a legacy of leadership but she also left us the widow’s mite.  We thank her, we celebrate her, and we salute her. Thank you Dr. Annie B.!

Also, we remember tonight, our colleague Willis Edwards from Los Angeles, California. We ask you that you keep Willis in your prayers at this very hour. We love you, Willis, and we thank you.

I would be remiss if I did not pay tribute to Mrs. Lulu Belle Madison White, a civil rights heroin who devoted most of her adult life to the struggle against Jim Crow in Texas.  She campaigned for the right to vote, for equal pay and for equal work, and for desegregation of public facilities. She is a legend across this state and so it is fitting that the theme of this year’s convention is “NAACP: My Power, My Decision, Vote.”

We can not take these words lightly. As members of the NAACP,we know our history in winning the right to vote for people of color. We also know that many in this convention hall are deeply connected to those who sacrificed and died for that right to vote.

Our right to vote is under attack more than at any time since we
passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965. We overcame then and we shall
overcome now—but only if we are willing to dedicate ourselves to fighting a
battle that many of us thought we had won.

Four years ago, it was easy to get people excited about the 2008
election. The country was on the brink of economic collapse and a
charismatic leader was rallying us with a message of hope and change.
Millions of Americans exercised their power, made a decision and
voted for change. Election night 2008 was the end of the process for many in our community when it should have been just the beginning. Instead of
exerting our power again in the 2010 midterm elections, many of us stayed
at home and across this land, people who do not share our values or vision
for America won majorities in the Congress and state legislatures. They
immediately passed laws to remove safety net provisions for the poor and
vulnerable, scaled back the rights of workers to organize, restricted women’s rights, attacked the dignity of new immigrants, and—in what proved to be our wake-up call—erected systematic barriers to our right to vote.

In short, they changed the rules of the game. They used their power,
influence and money to distort elections through misinformation. In four
months, it’s game time again and too much is at stake for us to sit on the
sidelines wringing our hands. We have to take action and get back in the
game to make it our own. As the young people say, “don’t hate the players,
change the game!”

In the face of an onslaught of state restrictions on voting, the NAACP
will register one million new voters in time for the November elections. We
have to elect a Congress in 2012 and again in 2014 and every two years
thereafter that will do the will of the people. From school board elections, to
city council and mayoral elections, to county councils and executive
elections, to state legislative and gubernatorial elections, to the congressional and presidential elections, we will be …. at the polls.

We will register, we will educate, we will mobilize, we will agitate,
and we will cast our votes, and ensure that our votes are counted. Our battle cry for this year and beyond must be “This is MY power! This is MY
decision! This is MY vote!”

Today, the enemies of justice are not lynching African-Americans and
practicing Jim Crow laws of segregation. They are more sophisticated. But
they are equally sinister. They are erecting barriers to economic viability,
educational quality, health care accessibility, judicial equity, and political
opportunity. The opponents of justice are more refined, but they are equally
threatening.

To address this “new normal” in American society, the NAACP
National Board of Directors developed a new game plan to guide our work
for the next several years. Our mission remains the same – to ensure the
political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all
persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. Our core
is constant. But we are adapting new strategies to help us achieve our
mission in the face of contemporary antagonists of justice.

Implementing our strategic plan with discipline and determination will
help us serve the present age more effectively. You will hear more
information about this compelling plan during the week, but I want to give
you a glimpse of the NAACP’s “game changers.” These “game changers”
are key areas of emphases that, as we are successful, will make life
measurably better for millions of people, and families, and communities that
long for liberty and justice for all.

As we continue the journey in our second century of securing equality
of rights for all, here are the bright lights that will guide our way.

• Economic sustainability – We intend that every person will have
equal opportunity to achieve economic success, sustainability, and
financial security.

• Education – We intend that every child will receive a free, high
quality, public pre-K through grade12 education.

• Health – We intend that everyone will have equal access to
affordable, high-quality health care and racially disparate health
outcomes will end.

• Public Safety and Criminal Justice – We intend that ever person
will be treated fairly and with dignity by the criminal justice system.
Disproportionate incarceration, racially motivated policing, and
racially biased sentencing will end. And the death penalty will be
abolished in the United States of America.

• Civic engagement and participation – We intend that every
American will have free, open, equal, and protected access to the vote
and fair representation at all levels of the political process.

With laser sharp focus, we believe we have created a comprehensive
civil rights agenda that will address the political and social dynamics of the
day.

In 1955, when Rosa Parks, a NAACP branch secretary and youth
advisor, sat down on the bus in Montgomery, Alabama and refused to give
up her seat – that was a game changer. By her courageous action, we were
no longer simply protesting racial segregation in the public transit system of
Montgomery, we were defying it. This historic game changer birthed the
year-long Montgomery bus boycott that demonstrated to the world, our
moral commitment and determination to end segregated busing. It pricked
the conscience of a nation, ignited the civil rights movement and the rest is
history.

The NAACP doesn’t have to look deep into history to see our game
changing spirit at work. I’m glad tonight that the NAACP is still “on the
job”. In April of this year, the NAACP led by Board Member Scot Esdaile
provided some of the key leadership in convincing the Connecticut state
legislature and its Governor to repeal the death penalty—a penalty that as
you know falls disproportionately on people of color and the poor. This
criminal justice game changer gave us confidence that we are not fighting a
hopeless cause. We will not rest until the death penalty is banned throughout the United States as it is in most of the civilized world.

Last month, we took on another seemingly intractable problem that
had become so pervasive that few thought we could turn it around. In New
York City, the number of routine “stop and frisks” by police officers
reached almost 700,000 a year. The majority of those being stopped and
frisked were African-American and Latino young men. They were being
stopped as quote-unquote “suspects” solely because of their race.
Whether it was the shocking outrage of the killing of Trayvon Martin
in Sanford, Florida or the cumulative effect of so many years of our young
people being profiled and criminalized by the police, the NAACP led by
President/CEO Ben Jealous, Board Member Hazel Dukes, organized labor
and other coalition partners took a game changing action and organized a
Father’s Day silent march to end racial profiling.

The intergenerational march of more than 70,000 people walked in
silence for 32 blocks. When Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner
Kelly saw this significant game changer event, they quickly changed their
media statements and admitted that their procedures needed to be changed. When the NAACP stands its ground things will change!

One of the most significant health care game changers in American
history came late last month when the Supreme Court of the United States
upheld—by a 5-4 margin—the constitutionality of most of the Affordable
Health Care Act. The NAACP believes that access to affordable high quality health care is a civil and human right that should not be reserved for the wealthy or the few.

When disparities disproportionately affect one group of people more
than another, we must raise the question, are root causes associated with
social injustices? African Americans continue to have the highest rates of
chronic diseases in this country. If Black America was its own country, it
would rank 16th in the world for HIV. One out of 16 black males and one of
32 black females will be diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in their lifetime.

As a health care advocate, I am especially pleased today that the
NAACP initiated a National Day of Unity and introduced a new social
justice HIV/AIDS manual targeted to leaders in the faith community. This
manual offers faith leaders an overview of why HIV is a social justice issue
and what the community can do to address it. It also serves as a roadmap as they take their congregation from increased awareness to advocacy. Through this game changing health education and training manual, prevention is within our reach and we must do our part to end this epidemic.

As we cope with a multiplicity of assaults on our voting rights, our
economic freedoms, and even our human dignity, we’d like to think we have come through our hardest trials. But then we hear the news.
In Chicago, mostly black on black gang related violence and murders
are up 38%. This year 224 people have been killed. Its been widely reported that these numbers are far more than the number of American soldiers killed in Afghanistan. A woman named Maya Hodari from the South Side of Chicago told the New York Times, “That’s somebody’s husband, somebody’s son, and they’re dying right on our block. It hurts.” Is anybody listening, does anybody care? Have we reached a point that life doesn’t mean anything to us anymore? I can hear our friends in hip-hop as they remind us, “YOLO”-you only live once.

And then we see others who are experiencing a different type of pain
with the growing rate of unemployment in urban centers. While those
running for office say that national unemployment at a rate of 8% is a
concern. We want to hear what you have to say about unemployment in the African American community which is currently more than 14%
and 11% for Latinos.

The old expression is that when Wall Street sneezes, America gets a
cold. Well, we have not recovered from the pneumonia we got in 2008. To
avoid another economic calamity that will fall hardest on people of color, we
must demand from our elected leadership the end of casino capitalism. We
need the banking and finance industries to be regulated in ways that prevent them from playing with money and playing with people’s lives in ways that jeopardize our families and our futures.

Some of our brothers and sisters have become apathetic and have even
given into despair in the face of these overwhelming economic problems.
But that is not the way of the NAACP. … Never has been. … Never will be.
We must be the face of hope for those who look to us for authentic
leadership. We must be the voice of hope for the voiceless. When our
children look into our faces, they should see “faces of hope” and people of
action. The German theologian Martin Luther said: “Everything that is done
in the world is done by hope.”

Just think of the possibilities that await us as a nation when we begin to see and affirm the faces of those who are of a different race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientations. Our hope for the nation is a society where all individuals have equal rights and equal protection under the law without barriers and discrimination. That is why in May the NAACP board of directors voted to support marriage equality.

I believe there is still hope in the NAACP. When I look at Wake
County, North Carolina where the school board was taken over by Tea Party conservatives promoting racial segregation, our state NAACP President and Board Member Rev. William Barber was arrested protesting the destructive plan. He became the face of hope for the residents of Wake County who got organized and took back the school board from the Tea Party. We can overcome these malicious attacks from ultra conservatives, but it takes hard work and requires determination.

Achieving our goals will not be easy NAACP, but nothing is impossible. As the Elders in the Arizona Hopi Nation say, “Now you must go back and tell the people, that this is the hour. The time of the lone wolf is over. Gather yourselves! Banish the word “struggle” from your attitude and your vocabulary. All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration. “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Yes, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for. For in our darkest hours,
our hope was built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness; we dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly leaned on Jesus’ name. Today, whether we believe in the prophet, the poet, the priest or the preacher, let us hold firmly to the confession of this hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful to deliver.

It is with this hope, that in November, we go to the polls to make
audible the whispered narratives of those who dreamed impossible dreams.

With this hope, we know that justice will roll down like water and
righteousness like an overflowing stream.

With this hope, we have no doubt that the valleys will be exalted and
the mountains will be made plain.

With this hope, bigotry, hatred, racism, discrimination, homophobia,
and sexism will all be eliminated.

With this hope, that runs deep within our NAACP veins, we will raise
our voices and in the words of James Weldon Johnson,

“Sing a song, full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
“Sing a song, full of the hope that the present has brought us;
“Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
“We will march on ‘til victory is won!”

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