Transcript of Roslyn Brock's Speech During 96th Annual ConventionJuly 10, 2005
"But by the grace of God, I am what I am and I offer no apologies for my race or for my color. " Good Morning NAACP. Thank you, Ms. Dukes for that very warm and loving introduction.
To Chairman Bond, Interim President/CEO Hayes, members of the National Board of Directors and Special Contributions Fund Board of Trustees, President-Select Gordon and delegates of the 96th Annual NAACP convention, I am both humbled and grateful for the opportunity to stand before this collective body of civil rights advocates this morning.
I stand tall on the shoulders of civil rights giants like NAACP founder Ida B. Wells-Barnett-? a young fierce anti-lynching crusader, voting rights activist and journalist; Althea T.L. Simmons-? the first woman to head the NAACP's Washington Bureau; Myrlie Evers-Williams who served with distinction as the second African-American woman and 11th Chairman of the Board of Directors of the NAACP; Hazel N. Dukes, President of the New York State Conference NAACP and former National President of this Association and Rupert Richardson, another former National President of the NAACP.
I honor the spirit, legacy, dedication and fierce activism of the women freedom fighters of yesterday and today who faced adversity while laboring in the leadership vineyard of this venerable organization.
On May 30, 1909, after answering a call, a group of three hundred individuals assembled in New York City to formulate strategies to combat lynching in our nation. During that convention, Sister Ida B. Wells-Barnett gave an impassioned speech on "Lynching Our National Crime," and challenged the group to establish a bureau to focus national attention on the epidemic of lynching. That group later became known as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
Following her recommendation, W.E.B. Dubois and the NAACP through its legal committee, did just what she said and created a major anti-lynching campaign with the slogan "A Black Man Was Lynched Today," which became its most powerful weapon in the fight against lynching. That campaign is what we would refer to today as public relations and advocacy in action. Wells-Barnett laid the building blocks for our public awareness campaigns that we implement so successfully today.
I admire Ida B. Wells-Barnett's commitment and tenacity to fight in the face of adversity and how she characterized herself as the agitator or "disturbing element that kept the waters troubled" on issues around the social and economic implications of lynching.
Ninety-six years later, as we assemble this morning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, just a few short miles from the banks of Lake Michigan, our issues may not center around lynching, but we're still fighting for quality education, civil rights' protections, fair wages, voting rights' protections, equitable social security benefits, union representation, decent housing, accessible and affordable healthcare.
I can hear Ida B. Wells-Barnett whispering in my ear off in the distance saying that there comes a time in each of our NAACP lives when writing resolutions and policy statements ain't enough; there comes a time when educational retreats at Harvard University ain't enough; when marching ain't enough, and lobbying ain't enough. As the "Conscience of a Nation," the NAACP must remain steadfast in its efforts "to keep the waters troubled" on these current civil and social justice issues.
In 2005, social justice battles have evolved from the picket lines and demonstrations of the south to state capitols, supreme courts, corporate boardrooms and suites of the nation's largest and most powerful companies. And the question we must seriously ask ourselves is: "Are we strategically positioned and technologically prepared as an organization to take the valuable lessons of the past and pave a new road to ensure that the groundwork of struggle and progress was not laid in vein?"
In a speech entitled "A New Movement and a New Method," before the Lexington Democratic Club Annual Dinner in New York City, in 1969, our Chairman Julian Bond said: "We know, too, that some things in America over the past several years have gotten better for some few of us. We can eat where we never ate before, go to school where we never went to school before, and can sit in the front of buses that never used to stop. There are more Negroes holding elective office today in all parts of the country, and more Negroes making more money now than ever before. More of us are registered to vote and more of us are voting. But for most of us, things have not gotten better."
These words have a chilling effect when you consider that the life expectancy of African-Americans is seven years less than the general population; death rates for heart disease in African Americans is 30 percent higher than whites; half of African American youth (50.2%) graduate with a diploma from high school ? 42.8% of males and 56.2% of females; black home ownership and Fairness & Opportunity falls severely behind that of white America.
Over the last 20 years, I've been inspired by the work of this great organization and I've been motivated by the call to action and I'm hopeful about the future. As you just saw, May marked the first Leadership 500 Summit. There were roughly 400 people in attendance resulting in 96 subscribing life members, and six fully paid life memberships ? and that is just the beginning. This Summit would never had have taken place without the full support of the National Board of Directors and the financial commitment of almost 20 sponsors who contributed more than $400,000 to make this dream a reality. It was a bi-partisan event with members from both sides of the aisle, and brothers and sisters from other civic and social justice organizations banding together to advance our movement. We will not and cannot do this alone and that was clear in Destin.
The reality is that like most organizations, we are missing a key group of people?.those are the ones age 30-50. They are busy building careers, raising families and preoccupied with climbing corporate ladders. But they came to Destin, responding to the Call. This was an event that was 20 years in the making and a launch pad for the next 20 years.
The roughly 400 people we convened were issued a challenge that weekend in Florida: to rise above our daily obstacles and make space for civic responsibility; to do more with more. There is no reason why with all we have today?. all the book-smarts, fancy degrees and access, that we still have people at the bottom of the well. Our challenge is to reach in and pull back! And that is my message today.
But that's not all?.responding to the call for action, a group of young Turks left Destin "fired up and ready to go." They returned home to cities all across this country--from Seattle to Chicago to Houston to Miami and to the largest borough in New York City, Brooklyn. Among them, Karen Boykin-Towns a young 39?year- old healthcare executive from Pfizer, reactivated the Brooklyn Branch of the NAACP. In Washington, D.C., Chris Foster a 35- year-old public relations executive with Carry On Communications lent his marketing expertise to advance our organization and our mission. They went home understanding that "service to others is the rent we pay for the space we occupy."
We must listen to our CONSCIENCE and protect and defend the very freedoms we take for granted. Roman 12:2 states:
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and perfect will of God."
When I listen to my conscience, I hear the call of the courageous men and women of this organization who marched, preached, picketed and fought long and hard to provide this generation with the many freedoms we enjoy today. When I listen to my conscience, I hear a call to service. My conscience tells me that now is not the time to lie down. My conscience tells me that we must wake up. For to whom much is given?.much is required.
My conscience is the conscience of this nation. My conscience is the conscience of the brave soldiers of the civil rights battles of the past 4 decades. When I listen to my conscience, I know that my mission is clear. For some, we have allowed our culture to dictate our conscience rather than our conscience dictate our culture, and I will not allow this to continue.
As I have traveled the country this past year as your Vice Chairman, I have seen first hand the impact of the work being done by this organization. I am proud of the steadfast commitment of the volunteers and leadership throughout the states.
BUT our work is not done! My grandmother once told me that if you do not stir the pot, your broth will settle. This organization is here to ensure that the broth does NOT settle. We will not settle for second best. We are close to achieving equality, but CLOSE ENOUGH IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH! We will not settle for second class citizenship. We will not settle for one black member of the United States Supreme Court. We will not settle for voter intimidation, racial profiling, predatory lending, residential segregation, hate crimes, and an erosion of affirmative action in today's society.
The role of the NAACP is to ensure that the broth does not settle! We will continue to stir the pot and "trouble the water." This organization will keep the waters troubled. For it is in troubled waters that we will work together to find calm seas.
As the Conscience of a Nation, the NAACP has for ninety-six years remained vigilant in our efforts to pierce the vale of injustice in American society because in the words of Ms. Wells-Barnett, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."
As I close, I'm reminded of an African proverb about a band of elephants crossing a river. As they were traveling across the terrain, they came upon a river. The big elephants did not have a problem stepping into the rough "conservative" waters. However, they were some very small elephants in the group who were afraid to step in the water.
Now elephants as you know are known for their stellar memory. As this movement was taking place, somebody of the middle of the river shouted to the front of the line to those who had crossed over and said?"Brother leader, we have some folks still standing on the banks of river who haven't made it into the water to cross over." How many of you have some rivers in your life that you've felt un-crossable?
Viewing the situation, the leaders of the elephants didn't call a town hall meeting, didn't write a government grant, and didn't seek any congressional legislation. The larger elephants turned around, got back in the water and stood shoulder to shoulder; allowing their bodies to create a dam that parted the waters to allow those little elephants to cross over on dry ground.
The moral of the story: once YOU MAKE IT! and get to the other side ?.don't forget to remember?. to turn around ?..and get back in the water and help someone else cross over on dry ground.
Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the day when hope unborn had died; yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet, come to a place for which our fathers sighed. We have come over a way that with tears has been watered; we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered; out from the gloomy past, till now we STAND at last, where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears; thou who has brought us thus far on the way; thou who has by Thy might led us into the light; keep us forever in the path, we pray. Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee; lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee. Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever STAND, true our God, true to our native land.
Is there anybody here ?. willing to stand and "trouble the water" with me? I wish I had one or two folks in the "tweener" group who will stand shoulder to shoulder with me and get back in the water this morning.
NAACP, as the conscience of a nation:
? We need to stand and trouble the water about the 21st century lynchings of our sons and daughters who are locked up in penal institutions across the length and breadth of this nation;
? Stand and trouble the water about our mothers, sisters and daughters who are dying at pandemic rates of HIV/AIDS;
? Stand and trouble the water about declining public school systems in our nation's urban centers;
? And stand and trouble the water to make the oldest and largest civil rights organization a fueling station and not a rest stop on the road to freedom and justice.
And having done all, just Stand?.Stand?. Stand!
Thank you and God Bless!
CONTACT: NAACP Office of Communications 410.580.5125