103rd NAACP National Convention – Houston, Texas
Meeting My Heroes
This summer has been a huge opportunity to experience and grow. I’ve met people whom I’ve loved and respected for many, many years and some who I have recently come to know and admire. I’ve never been as excited to work anywhere as I am to be at the NAACP. I know I will look back on this as a pivotal experience for all the days of my life.
But before I delve into my convention experience, let me share with you some photos from the Fourth of July (not referred to here as “Independence Day”) in our nation’s capital. I watched the fireworks from Arlington National Cemetery as they were displayed over the National Mall. In the pictures, you can see the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Lovely!
Fireworks in Washington DC
For the first time in my life, I attended the NAACP Annual Convention on July 7-13, 2012. This year’s 103rd meeting took place in Houston, Texas. I can’t even begin to describe what an amazing week it was. I am still processing everything that happened, which is why this post is so delayed.
Convention theme: Your Power, Your Decision – VOTE!
The week began with checking in at the Hilton Americas, which was connected to the convention center where the annual meeting was housed. Immediately afterward, the Fellows and I set out for our first convention reception. When I walked in the door, I met Dallas Jones, the former regional director for my region (Region VI!!!!) when I was a NAACP college chapter president at the University of Arkansas. Throughout the convention, I met several more people who were key in the organization as I began my long-term relationship with the NAACP in my college days including Soror Stefanie Brown who has now moved on to play a key organizing role in the Obama campaign (Obama ’12!!!)
the Hilton Americas
My major duties as a staff member in this convention were to 1) facilitate and moderate two continuing legal education (CLE) seminars, 2) assist our attorneys in the legal department office, and 3) aid in the general body’s resolutions process. For the past 28 years, the NAACP has provided two days of CLEs to assist attorneys, mostly practicing in the area of civil rights, as well as NAACP branch legal redress chairs and any other interested parties by providing up-to-date information on relevant issues facing civil rights while providing CLE credit that attorneys need to accumulate annually to maintain their license to practice. My CLE topics were 1) How to Try a Race Case and 2) Ethics: Challenges in Representing Organizational Clients. I may be somewhat (read as: extremely) biased, but my panelists were among the most prolific and dynamic speakers in the 15 various sessions.
2012 Fellows with Gen. Counsel Kim Kennan and Asst. Gen. Counsels Dorcas Gilmore, Victor Goode, and Anson Asaka
My first session, organized as a brown bag lunch, was led by Mr. Craig Washington, a lifetime public servant and civil rights attorney who shared a powerful call to action with his audience. He started with the proposition that we are almost back to the times of Plessey v. Ferguson (decision that upheld “separate but equal” doctrine) as we have a President whose rights are not to be respected as people want to “take their country back,” bring guns to rallies, and demonstrate by hanging President Obama in effigy (google it). From there, he outlined his 40+ years of experience as a civil rights and criminal defense attorney and spoke a great deal about inherent bias. He referenced Harvard’s implicit association test as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking. (Link to test: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/) He said that the results are astounding and astonishing for even the most liberal people, which “doesn’t mean that everyone is racist, it means that there is racism.” (I took the test myself and the results say that I exhibit little to no automatic preference between European Americans and African Americans). I could really go on for a while about Mr. Washington’s presentation, but I’ll end by saying not only did I learn important lessons from him, but I gained a teacher and a friend in the process.
Some quotes from Mr. Washington’s seminar:
- Justice is for all of us – we must show up (speaking on jury duty)
- Playing the race card means it had to be dealt and we are not dealing the cards
- If we accept what is, we are at fault
- We know what the law is, but we do what we think it should be (speaking as a civil rights attorney)
- No matter if children are being uneducated intentionally or unintentionally, the result is the same
- WE’RE FIGHTING FOR OUR LIVES
Mr. Craig Washington
My other seminar, an ethics panel, was the concluding session in our two day CLE offering. The two gentlemen who spoke, Mr. John Harper and Mr. Jonathan Smaby, were long-time practitioners in the fields of labor law and legal ethics. Their presentation was fundamental to the work many of us do in supporting nonprofits, organizations such as the NAACP, or corporations. Many of the hypos posed by attorneys in the audience during this session were both frightening and appalling – especially when describing actions taken by colleagues and judges. I won’t get on my soapbox about regulation of legal ethics, but let’s just say that there is, indeed, an ethical code that we are supposed to follow in regards to our practice.
Mr. John Harper and Mr. Jonathan Smaby
On Sunday night, Chairwoman Roslyn Brock held an offsite, invitation only reception to which we were given tickets by a wonderful colleague. Let me say, the décor was STUNNING. There were satin table cloths fashioned like purple roses, purple chair dressings, just amazing. This was the Fellows’ first opportunity to dress up and go out, and we really enjoyed ourselves. This was the first and last “evening event” I attended, but make no mistake – there were multiple parties and receptions every night. I just couldn’t (and wouldn’t) hang. Instead, I got to hang out with some of my best, best friends who I haven’t seen for a long time (Shatyra Williams – a bestie since boarding school and Colette McFalls – my Soror and link from another chapter). I consider my time very well spent in this regard.
Ladies at the Chairwoman’s Reception – 1) D’Ann, Brittany, me, Shannine 2) Sorors Brittany and I
Shatyra and I
After CLEs concluded, our main responsibility was facilitating the resolutions process. Each chapter’s voting delegate (usually the president) comes to the resolutions process ready to adopt or amend any number of resolutions, or action items, presented for approval by the general body for the organization. This meeting effectively sets the agenda for the NAACP until its next convention. I was asked to sit on stage and real-time edit the resolutions on screen while delegates proposed amendments from the floor. This turned out to be a HUGE responsibility!!!
Working during resolutions
My view from stage
And guess who came to address the body during the meeting – United States Attorney General Eric Holder!!! I was seated literally 10 feet away from him while he spoke about the right-wing attack on the right to vote. While he was there, we adopted a resolution to support him in the face of his contempt charge. Needless to say, the resolutions process was mind-blowing and exciting to the extreme.
1) AG Holder speaking 2) voting to approve the resolution in his support
My goodness so that wasn’t even the biggest thing. Since I was little and learned anything about the NAACP, Julian Bond was the constant face of the organization. During his tenure as Chairman of the Board, the organization went through several different presidents and other various leadership changes, but he remained as a symbol of consistency and tenacity. Needless to say, he’s been one of the biggest heroes in my short lifetime. The first time I saw him at convention, I walked past him waving like a loon. When I finally got to meet him, I had somewhat come to terms with my star struck-ness (my colleagues might argue otherwise) and was able to have a conversation with him (AHHHHHHH!!!!!) He shared with me that his wife (a white woman, by the way) was a hero in her own right, having secured landmark decisions that allowed women to serve as prison guards, among other things. WOW!!
the Fellows and Julian Bond
So I met him at the Clarence Mitchell, Jr. Luncheon where we, as Fellows, were recognized, and where Craig Watkins, the first black District Attorney IN TEXAS (elected only 5 years ago), spoke. This was also the first time I heard the current NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous speak. Days before the convention, his first son was born (blessing) and we thought he might not make it. Although I haven’t been able to meet him (yet), I am inspired by his new agenda for the organization and the hope that young people will have a much larger stake in the ownership of the NAACP.
President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond, and Texas Congressman Al Green
2012 Kellogg’s NAACP Law Fellows
Upon reviewing the convention agenda, I discovered that Dr. Walter Kimbrough, former president of Philander Smith College in Little Rock, was to give the keynote lecture at the Roy Wilkins Youth and College Leadership Luncheon. I lucked up on some tickets and ended up sitting at the head table beside Cynthia M.A. Butler-McIntyre, President of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. (AHHHHHH!!!!) I got to have a conversation with her about my dear Lambda Theta, the chapter where I was born into this great sisterhood. Not only was that thrilling, but Dr. Kimbrough, now the president of Dillard University in New Orleans – also where Madame President attended college and pledged our sorority, delivered the most inspiring and, personally, my favorite speech of the entire convention (a damn hard call – I heard some excellent speeches). His message was centered on our dear Brother (Rodney) King’s famous words “Can’t we all just get along?”
Dr. Kimbrough rocking the mic
Madame President’s credentials
That’s a lot, right?! And I haven’t even mentioned Mitt Romney (ha!), Vice President Joe Biden, or Viola Davis. In those respects, I’ll keep it short. It was national news that Romney got booed during his speech. The reason being, of course, is that he vowed to repeal Obamacare, among other things. Well, duh! Word on the street is that he also flew in his own (covert) black people to give the appearance that members of the audience agreed and approved of his message. Malarkey! It was probably the first time in his poor little life he was ever booed, so I posit that it was a necessary and character-building experience for him. Vice President Biden (and not President Obama :( ) made a great speech on the perils of a Romney presidency, but not before shouting out his long-time friend and colleague – a guy named Mouse – in the audience. This is one cool and smooth brother. Viola Davis (Aibileen from The Help) delivered the final speech at the Freedom Fund Banquet, which was among the best I heard the entire week. Not only did she freely wear hair natural hair (beautiful), she spoke of the importance of voting based on the blood of our ancestors that was spilled to pay for the precious right.
Mitt Romney, Vice President Joe Biden, Viola Davis
2012 Fellows at the Freedom Fund Banquet
In probably the biggest news of the week, I FINISHED MY CLINTON SCHOOL THESIS/CAPSTONE PROJECT. I’m waiting to hear more about the defense of my project, but I’m so happy to be done with a 27 page deliverable and 33 page final project report. Thank you to everyone who supported me through my Clinton School journey, but please remain vigilant. We are not finished yet.
To celebrate finishing Capstone, I stayed in and ordered room service. YUMMO
the Fellows and I :)
When I came back from convention, my godsister, Robin Terry, and I had tickets for the Cirque du Soleil Michael Jackson show in DC. I’ve only seen one other Cirque show, so I’m not sure why my expectations were so high, but I was somewhat disappointed when the curtain closed. Has anyone else seen it? Thoughts?
Godsis and I Michael Jackson ready!!
My heart and prayers go out to the families affected by the Aurora, Colorado shooting over the past weekend. I sincerely hope that our country will soon realize the importance of mental health in a person’s overall well-being.
Commemorative poster by artist Frank Frazier
My time in Baltimore is coming to a close in three short weeks and there are still so many things to look forward to. Last night, Brittany (Soror Fellow) and I went on a date to a jazz joint called Club 347 in downtown Baltimore for their jam session night. So many talented musicians and singers graced the stage that I WILL be hitting it up every Monday night until I’m gone.
Club 347 Monday Night Jam Session
Good luck to all my bar exam takers (and passers)! Especially my cohort from the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law.
That’s all for now, dear friends. See you soon!