Voting, COVID and Women’s Rights Take Center Stage at NAACP National Convention in New Jersey

There was no shortage of issues disproportionately faced by black and brown communities across the country, brought to the fore by NAACP National President Derrick Johnson on Saturday morning.

Continued voter suppression. The impact of COVID-19. The overthrow of Roe V. Wade.

These were among the many black leaders and Johnson highlighted when they described the importance of this week.

“As we approach the midterm elections, it is our opportunity – as an organization, as a community, as a collective whole in all communities – to ask ourselves whether or not this would be the America we want to see. Or the America where others are trying to lead us,” Johnson said on the third day of the 113th NAACP National Convention in Atlantic City.

Johnson also touched on student loan debt and mass school shootings while discussing the critical need to boost voter turnout.

The national rally is taking place for the fourth time in New Jersey and for the first time in person since 2019 amid the pandemic. Atlantic City also hosted the 1964 Democratic National Convention, which was mentioned several times during Saturday’s opening press conference at the Atlantic City Convention Center.

The convention, which is expected to draw about 8,000 people this year, kicked off Thursday and will run through July 20 at the convention center, various Atlantic City hotels and on a beach. According to the city’s destination management organization, Meet AC, Atlantic City Mayor Marty Small Sr. said the convention is expected to raise about $10 million. Small and other local leaders said delegates and other NAACP convention attendees would be encouraged to spend locally.

The week of events — including panel discussions, author readings and workshops — began with ACT-SOa multi-day competition involving hundreds of children and covering various topics such as dance, music and engineering.

READ MORE: Atlantic City, home of the NAACP convention, has been transformed by its casinos. But many have been left behind.

The NAACP noted that voting rights are “under attack” more than 150 years after the 15th amendment gave black men in the United States the right to vote in 1870. Organizers said the upcoming elections in november would provide “an incredible opportunity to build black political power at all levels of the ballot.”

According to the figures of the American census which the New York-based nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice analyzed that in the 2020 presidential primary, which typically draws more voters, about 71% of white voters voted to 58% of nonwhite voters.

Jessie Jarmon, a 67-year-old NAACP delegate from Kenansville, North Carolina, hopes the rally will increase the number of people who turn out to vote.

“More people don’t vote than vote,” he said. “We need to get more people to vote, regardless of party.”

With thousands of people gathered in Atlantic City to the NAACP national conventiondelegates and organizers said it would be important to register voters for November’s midterm elections to address issues in their communities.

These issues include the added burden that black communities have borne during the pandemic.

“The old African-American aphorism: when white America catches a cold, black America catches pneumonia. Now it has a new twist: when white America gets the coronavirus, black Americans die,” NAACP NJ State Conference President Richard Smith said Saturday.

During the first two days of the convention, NAACP advocates, attendees and members also spoke about the issues that most harm communities of color, including reproductive rights, police brutality, mass shootings and the student loan debt.

The The recent decision of the Supreme Court of the United States ending the constitutional right to abortion will likely have a greater impact on women of color, activists said. Black women in the United States were nearly four times more likely to have abortions than white women and Hispanic women were twice as likely, CDC says data published in 2019.

Kaleem Shabazz, president of the Atlantic City branch of the NAACP and Atlantic City councilman, pointed to the recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, as examples of incidents where communities of color appeared to be targeted. He said the pipe and other shootings were part of the push to increase security at the national convention.

Student loan debt in the United States topped $1.7 trillion in the spring, with most of that financial hardship falling on communities of color, according to the Education Data Initiative. According to the research group, 30% of black college graduates with student loans default within the first 12 years of repayment.

The cancellation of student debt is one of the action items the NAACP lists online. He joins other organizations advocating for borrowers of color, who say debt can stifle their efforts to gain wealth, invest in their future and spill over into their communities.

“We have issues that seem to crop up daily,” said Leon Russell, chairman of the NAACP’s national board of directors. “It has been a tumultuous time. The pandemic has kept us home, eating and exercising. But now, we must use the energy we have accumulated to bring about the change necessary for our people to move forward with our theme…”This is power”.

What’s going on this week?

The 113th National Convention will feature over 90 eventsincluding panels, competitions, celebrations, live music and press conferences.

Kamala Harris, the first black and Asian American and first woman to serve as vice president, will speak at the convention on Monday. Then, host a roundtable with New Jersey state legislators and others to discuss protecting abortion rights after the landmark Roe v. Wade.

President Joe Biden issued an executive order last week to protect abortion rights, including access to Food and Drug Administration-approved medications, emergency medical care and contraception.

Governor Phil Murphy, Labor Secretary Marty Walsh and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Marcia Fudge are also expected to address attendees at the event.

On Wednesday, the NAACP will honor Majority Whip James E. Clyburn with the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest honor given once a year, at the convention, organizers announced.

A band performs before the ribbon cutting at the opening press conference of the NAACP’s 113th National Convention, in Atlantic City, NJ on Saturday, July 16, 2022.David Hernández | For NJ Advance Media for NJ.com

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Steven Rodas can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @stevenrodasnj.