Greetings. The Constitution of the United States of America begins with three radical words – “We the people.” Listen to the aspirational ideals that introduce the document intended to serve as the supreme law of the land.
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The concept that the people of the United States would rule themselves rather than be ruled by a royal family was a revolutionary idea in the 18th century. It has inspired many people in many parts of the world to move toward democracy and self-government. That noble concept, however, is not yet complete. The dream is not yet a reality.
This country still has to answer the question: Who are the people?
For 106 years, the NAACP has been answering that question. Our unmistakable answer has been, and continues to be: that We all- red, brown, yellow, black and white – are the people.
Descendants of indigenous nations are the people; descendants of the enslaved are the people; descendants of immigrants are the people; those who are born with privilege and those who are born into poverty are the people.
The NAACP has educated; demonstrated; legislated; litigated; negotiated; and agitated to secure the liberties promised by the founders of this great nation. Because our work is not complete, I stand before you tonight seeking a sustained commitment to ACTION to accomplish our goals. I want you to embrace a larger vision that will deliver us from our current trials to a society defined by love and unity and not by division.
We meet in the City of Brotherly Love—and Sisterly—Affection around the theme Pursuing Liberty In The Face Of Injustice. And pursue liberty we must. Liberty is within our grasp, but it will not be a gift. The evidence is clear. The jury is in. The data is confirmed. Liberty will not be given to us by the enemies of freedom and the ambassadors of evil. Injustice is blocking the way, delaying our goal, and distracting our attention. But liberty is within our view. We must pursue it. We must chase it. We must hunt it. We must catch it.
Many of our ancestors started their journey in the United States in chains that were not removed until the conclusion of a bloody Civil War. People committed to justice had to claim the rights defined in the Constitution. Those hard-won rights were undermined by Jim Crow laws for another 90 years. But the NAACP pursued liberty in the courts, in the streets, and in the halls of government until the great Civil Rights victories of 50 years ago were won.
In 1927, NAACP Founder Ida B. Wells-Barnett, said “We must never lose sight of the preservation of our liberties.” She made this comment against a backdrop of growing national racial hostility and division. Our courageous forebears were ‘buked, scorned and killed, but their collective sacrifices and victories opened wide America’s freedom gates to people of color in every field of human endeavor including the highest office in the land. We saw the flowering of a black middle class, the end of legal segregation, the opening of schools, colleges, and universities, the integration of board rooms and neighborhoods across the land.
It was only six years ago that 60 beautiful black children arrived from their day camp to the Valley Swim Club in Northeast Philadelphia only to have the white children exit the pool when they jumped in. The pool attendants told the black children that they were not allowed in the club because of their race and were told to leave. Their money was refunded and they were told not to come back. The club members tried to claim it had nothing to do with race. The Justice Department pressed the case. And in 2012, the club had to pay $1.1 million in damages. Is clinging to racism worth that much?
Eerily familiar is another pool incident in McKinney, Texas, where black youth were asked to leave a neighborhood pool. Aggressive policing was on display as a police officer slammed to the ground a 14-year old African American girl in her bathing suit, who was heard screaming “I Have Freedom Of Speech.”
Now, if I were in a pulpit tonight rather than on a platform, I would talk with you about things that happen near the pool – where healing and transformation can lead one to a life of liberation. But that will have to wait for another assignment.
Although many civil rights battles have been won we are far from declaring victory over racial injustice. We earnestly work for that great day when we can face “the rising sun of a new day begun!” That is why we are here in Philadelphia. That is why we work persistently in NAACP Units and College chapters across this nation.
I have devoted thirty-one years of my life in service to the NAACP because I believe its mission, values and goals. And I am not alone. I rejoice in the thousands of men and women who like me volunteer their time, contribute their talents and give their treasures to this movement to “create a more perfect union.” We understand that the price of liberty is indeed eternal vigilance.
We have seen a resurgence of freedom fighters within the ranks of the NAACP who have courageously picked up the mantle of leadership to forge new pathways in the fight for liberty and justice. Many of them join me tonight.
A few years ago a 15- year old young woman from inner city Philadelphia began advocating for issues related to gun violence after her brother was killed in the streets and her father along with 11 of her 13 other brothers were incarcerated. Today, at 26 Jamira Burley is a graduate of Temple University, with dual degrees in International Business and Legal Studies. She is an advocate on issues of gun violence and criminal justice reform.
Another young champion of justice is 27- year old Shae Harris who, as a college student on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University, committed her life and career to advocating on behalf of those who have been previously incarcerated. After interning with the NAACP’s Washington Bureau in 2007, Shae now champions the cause for civil rights, as the Deputy Director of Returning Citizen Affairs for the District of Columbia, where she implements evidence based re-entry strategies for those returning home from incarceration.
Anthony Harmon is the newly elected President of the New York City Branch NAACP formerly led by the late Dr. Annie B. Martin. This new millennium NAACP leader at the age of 46 has focused the branch’s efforts on education and health issues. Under his leadership, the branch provided 40,000 new free books to children in the Harlem community and reactivated its NAACP youth council. Both the president and vice president of the youth council are attending this National Convention.
Bolstered by what they experienced attending networking seminars and empowering workshops at the NAACP Leadership 500 Summits, several community leaders, clergy and local branch members created what has come to be known as the “Long Island Game Changers” to institute measurable change in their community. In 2014, they hosted a Long Island Game Changer Summit at Hofstra University with over 200 youth and adults in attendance.
The NAACP is proud to report that we have renewed our commitment to partner with the National Pan-Hellenic Council, known as the Divine 9 to leverage our strategic social justice goals. The Council represents more than 1 million college educated predominately African American men and women who have historically been catalysts for change. In October of last year, President Brooks and I signed a Memorandum Of Understanding with the Ancient Egyptian Arabic Order, Nobles Mystic Shrine, the Daughters of Isis and the Prince Hall Masons to work collaboratively on issues of voting rights and health care. And last but certainly not least, the NAACP will at its Fall Board meeting sign a formal agreement to partner with the LINKS, Inc. to support ACT-SO; address HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C in the African American community.
As you can see, pursuing liberty in the face of injustice is a multi generational, multi-faceted, multi-tasking effort. We celebrate youth activism with our ranks and grow stronger from the wellspring of energy they bring to complement the heritage and wisdom of our elders. Working together, we the people of the NAACP will claim liberty and justice for all.
African Americans have been challenged during this past year not only concerning our right to vote, but concerning our right to live!
Voting Rights Act
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the passage of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965 that prohibited discrimination in voting. This landmark civil rights legislation catapulted our long held belief that participation in civic life must begin with voting, not end with it.
1n 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act when it struck down Section 4B of the Act that provided protections and required preclearance for changes in voting practices which could potentially foster discrimination and bias in voting. I believe we can prevail upon Congress to fully restore the Voting Rights Act with a national campaign to educate all Americans about the power of their vote.
On August 1st, the NAACP President/CEO William Cornell Brooks will lead a historic 860-mile Journey to Justice march from Selma, Alabama to Washington, D.C. across five states to dramatize the need for state level reform in our five game-changing areas of voting rights, labor and employment rights, public education, and criminal justice. We believe substantive legislation is needed to strengthen existing voting rights laws and to promote a stronger democracy built on a promise of equality for all.
Supreme Court Decisions
The Supreme Court recently ruled in ways that bends toward justice in its decisions this term concerning the Affordable Care Act; Fair Housing and Marriage Equality. These are issues for which the NAACP has long advocated, and we are encouraged by these decisions.
The Affordable Care Act is officially the law of the land granting 16.4 million Americans access to affordable, quality health care, so far. Health care is a civil rights issue! Because of our commitment to health equity, the NAACP has affirmatively placed its marker on combating the issue of HIV/AIDS in the African American community.
In 2010, the Association partnered with Gilead Sciences to implement an Initiative called the Black Church and HIV: A Social Justice Imperative. Just as black churches are under siege, so are black bodies with the continued spread of this epidemic. We’ve asked faith leaders to step in and lend their voices and commitment to a national movement to reverse the course of this disease and they have responded. Today is our fourth annual Day of Unity where faith leaders across the nation united to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS as a health and social justice priority.
As you have heard from Julian Castro, Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Supreme Court’s recent ruling on the Fair Housing Act upheld the use of disparate impact claims, or the recognition that certain housing policies may be deemed discriminatory based not on intentions, but on the resulting negative impact on a minority group. This ruling is significant as it continues to provide protections from discrimination to minorities when they are renting, buying, or securing financing for housing.
The advancement of affirmatively furthering fair housing, an initiative in which the NAACP has worked very closely with HUD continues to carry the day.
I’d like to acknowledge tonight, Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond and California State Conference President Alice Huffman for their unwavering leadership within the NAACP concerning Marriage Equality. As early as 2004, the Washington Bureau, Chairman Bond and the California State Conference supported legislation in California to support Marriage Equality. In 2008 the NAACP began its own efforts on the national level to deliberate this sensitive yet important issue and in 2012 passed a Board resolution in support of Marriage Equality. The Resolution clearly stated the NAACP’s opposition to any national, state, or local policy that seeks to codify discrimination or hatred into law or remove the Constitutional rights of any citizens. Many organizations followed our lead and today, Marriage Equality is the law of the land. The NAACP is indeed pursuing liberty and justice for all.
This coming term, the Supreme Court will consider further restrictions of affirmative action in college admissions. And they have taken a case seeking to change apportionment by the number of voters, not the number of residents in a district—We must note that Elections have consequences!
Presidential elections will soon be upon us. We have learned hard lessons in recent decades about how important free and fair elections are. Unfair elections have deep and lasting consequences for those who believe in liberty and justice. So-called Conservative forces will seek to win the next presidential election by changing the way their electoral votes are allocated. Hidden behind innocent sounding rhetoric, the enemies of robust voter participation have been, and will be, working to suppress voter participation with discriminatory voter ID laws, limiting polling times, restricting early voting, and manipulation boundaries.
I sound the alarm about this now so that we can take collective action to stop some of these state legislatures from rigging the system and disenfranchising voters. U.S. Census data in 2011 revealed that the percentage of the nation’s black population living in the South reached its highest point in half a century. According to the data, there are now more than 1 million black residents who have moved to the South.
All of this is important because in 2020, state legislatures that are going to draw redistricting lines for the next decade. We have five years to get ready because elections have consequences! The NAACP is committed to ensuring that all votes can be cast and all votes will be counted.
And this is why, after the U.S. Supreme Court gutted this crucial provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the NAACP, working with then-Attorney General Eric Holder developed a quick-response system. We trained NAACP Voting Rights monitors to report discrimination plans to the U.S. Department of Justices’ Voting Rights Section through an expedited streamlined system. We are deeply gratified that our newly confirmed Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, the first African American woman Attorney General, has committed the U.S. Justice Department to continue and expand this initiative. And as such, we genuinely look forward to hearing more from her Wednesday night, here in Philadelphia at our Freedom Fund/Thalheimer Awards Dinner.
In November last year, I joined President Brooks, NAACP Board Members, and Missouri NAACP State Conference leadership on a 134 miles march from Ferguson, Missouri to the capital of Jefferson City. On the journey, the group was met with residents holding up Confederate battle flags and shouting the N-word. In the small town of Rosebud, Missouri the group encountered a 40-ounce bottle of Old English Malt liquor; a bucket of fried chicken and a watermelon. Projectiles were hurdled at the bus and caused a window to shatter. Vivid scenes like these made the civil rights history depicted in the movie “Selma” all too present to those who marched for justice.
In many communities, our children are not safe even while walking down the streets of their own neighborhoods. Overzealous and racist policing have become the rule not the exception in some of our cities, —from Michael Brown in Ferguson to Walter Scott in North Charleston to Eric Garner on Staten Island to Freddie Gray in Baltimore to Akai Gurley in Brooklyn to 12-year old Tamir Rice in Cleveland. Just four days ago, the Governor of New York appointed a special prosecutor to ensure that communities of color are protected from police misconduct. With this Executive order a special prosecutor will have the power to review, investigate and prosecute cases where unarmed civilians are killed.
We all know their names. We know the places. We will never forget their faces. However, how do we explain over the Fourth of July holiday 10 people killed and 55 wounded in Chicago? How do we explain 4 deaths in Milwaukee? How do we explain in West Philadelphia, the murders of 4 men and a 17-year old teenage girl- All deaths by own hands. How do we give life to the narrative that Black Lives Matter when we are doing the killing?
We the people must double down on our efforts to end gun violence in our own neighborhoods, while we address aggressive policing by those charged to protect and serve. We want comprehensive police reform that includes training for community policing where officers reflect the communities they serve; We want body cameras to ensure accountability, and we want the elimination of unconscious biases which negatively impacts how men and women in blue perceive and treat communities of color. Let me be crystal clear Black on Black crime must end in our community as we imbue new life and meaning into the often quoted hashtag #Black Lives Matter!
Tragically on June 17th in “the Holy City” of Charleston, South Carolina—the Pastor and eight dedicated members of the historic Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were murdered in cold blood as they gathered for bible study. Nine lives were snatched from us solely because of the color of their skin. We honor their sacrifice and call their names this evening: Rev. Clementa Pinkney; Susie Jackson; Rev. Daniel Simmons, Sr.; Ethel Lance, Myra Thompson; Cynthia Hurd; Rev. Depayne Middleton-Doctor; Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton and Tywanza Sanders.
Yes, all Black Lives Matter! But this time was different. The sanctity of the Black church was violated. We were done with pleading. We demanded real action! Starting with the immediate removal of the Confederate battle flag. The NAACP is grateful for the steadfast, unwavering work over more than fifteen year of NAACP South Carolina State Conference President Dr. Lonnie Randolph, and National Board member James Gallman to remove the Confederate battle flag from government buildings and public spaces! Lest we forget we must also call the name of the late William F. Gibson, who served as Chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors from Greenville, South Carolina and former NAACP Field Operations staffers Rev. Nelson Rivers, Rev. Charles White and the late Earl T. Shinhoster, for their work to bring down the flag.
For us, the Confederate Battle flag has never stood for a proud heritage. It has always stood for white resistance and supremacy to the humanity and dignity of people of color. And when the alleged perpetrator of the massacre of African-American people committed terrorist acts against Christians in Charleston, and was seen posing with a gun and the Confederate flag, the rest of the country began to understand the depths of our pain.
Even, the son of the notorious South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond, State Senator Paul Thurmond, called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag that he called and I quote “this symbol of racism and bigotry from the Statehouse.” His words, not mine.
Our nation has a history of turning great adversity into beacons of hope, and light. Some have said that the flag is simply a symbol. But tearing down the symbols of bigotry and ending the language of hatred and exclusion is essential to changing hearts and minds and healing our nation of racism.
I celebrate Activist Bree Newsome, the young woman who broke an unjust law and climbed up a 30-foot flagpole to take down that evil banner. And I lift up the name of James Tyson, the gentleman who was arrested for assisting her. Courage has not skipped this generation!
The alleged perpetrator wanted to trigger a race war. But we refused to give it to him or anyone else who seeks to provoke us. We are going to win the war for liberty and justice with determination and love. Sadly, Dylann Storm Roof did not know about the souls of black folk. Wrong church! Wrong People! Wrong Day! When racism raises its ugly head, every American has to take responsibility for curing our culture of this insidious disease. As strong as we are, the NAACP cannot do it alone. We the people have to unite and do it together!
In this raw, tender moment of reflection and introspection after Charleston, I am NOT asking you to “move on” and “get back to normal.” The normal state of affairs in America is unacceptable. The status quo hurts us all, black white and brown.
We of the NAACP are asking our fellow Americans, our brothers and our sisters to join us on the frontlines of the fight to confront the racist realities that beset us—to pick the scab off of American racism so that it can be confronted for what it is and eliminated once as for all.
This must become the journey of We. The. People. As Margaret Feinberg wrote in her book “Wonderstruck” our “Faith invites us to live a journey marked by holy courage and irrepressible hope.” I still have hope tonight that We. The. People. in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., … “will get to the promised land.”
We. The. People. must have the courage to create an environment free of racism, discrimination, bigotry and hate. We need more prophetic voices in the public square to rise up and unite our nation towards racial healing. We have to diligently work to close the growing political, economic and social divisions that separate us. We. The. People. must do this work together—united in common purpose across racial, ethnic, religious, and economic lines to make it come to fruition. It is towards this end with the full acknowledgment that there are many more battles to fight that the NAACP voted to end the Economic Boycott of South Carolina.
The mission of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. This is what we do.
The vision of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is to ensure a society in which all individuals have equal rights without discrimination based on race. This is the world we aspire to live in.
The civil rights goals we seek as members of the NAACP are fundamental building blocks of a descent and thriving society. They should not be luxuries enjoyed by the elite. They are the rights of the people. They are the rights of “we the people.” They are the rights of all the people. This noble cause keeps us committed to pursuing liberty in the face of injustice.
We. The. People. are beneficiaries of the heroic work of our movement for more than a century. We have victories to celebrate. But we have battles yet to fight. And fight we must, because injustice is injurious. The opponents of liberty and justice are hurtful and hateful people. And when you believe in freedom, you are in a fight with people who live for injustice.
Achieving liberty and securing justice – fairness – for all people is a struggle. But struggle is not new for us. We have been shaped in the crucible of struggle, and we are up for the battle. Setbacks will come, but we must not faint. In the words of a fellow struggler for life and hope,
“We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
In our pursuit of liberty, we will get bruised. We will get battered. We will get bloodied. But we will not be defeated! We are in a fight for our lives, because black lives matter. We are in a fight for our lives because all lives matter. We are all the people!
And we the people will prevail.
We. The. People will unite together and,
Lift every voice and sing,
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty!
Because God has been the God of our weary years,
He has been, the God of our silent tears,
The One who has brought us thus far on the way.
It is my His might that has led us into the light,
He will keep up forever in the path we pray!
Today, we stand shadowed His Almighty Hand,
May we forever stand! Pursuing Liberty in the Face of Injustice.
We must continue to stand because….
“One day when the glory comes
It will be ours, it will be ours
One day when the war is won
We will be sure, we will be sure
In 2015, we know that
“the war is not over, victory isn’t won
And we’ll fight on to the finish, then when it’s all done
We’ll cry glory, oh glory
We’ll cry glory, oh glory”
NAACP can you shout Glory! Because one day…..
“When the war is done, when it’s all said and done
We’ll cry glory, oh glory”
One day…..we’ll cry LIBERTY, JUSTICE, FREEDOM! OH GLORY!
Thank you! God Bless America and God Bless the NAACP.
Peace and Power!