NAACP CEO Brooks inspires Florida State NAACP’s 71St Convention
Cornel William Brooks, president and CEO of NAACP National Office and FSC President Adora Obi Nwesi.
Story and photos by Louis C. Ward
Florida State Conference (FSC) NAACP’s 71st Annual Convention Freedom Fund Banquet will probably become one of the most informative and memorable events the state civil rights organization ever sponsored. It wasn’t about the public, civic and business leaders, political candidates and former Florida Governors, Bob Graham and Charlie Crist who showed up at the event.
The unforgettable game changer was Cornel William Brooks, the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) who clarified the relevance of the organization to today’s struggle against inequality and injustice with his presentation: “A Selfie on Social Justice in America.”.
Hosted by the NAACP’s Bay County Branch, the event attracted more than 300 attendees, and was held Oct. 9 through 11 at the Wyndham Bay Point Resort in Panama City Beach, Fla.
A small statute of a man with a resounding voice and an animated delivery, Brooks often touched the core of the people’s souls as he spoke, and often preached, about the work of the FSC and the national organization, which he said “loves America and America needs.”
Brooks engaged the audience in the very beginning of his message with a nugget from his grandmother Rosalee, who said the two most important words of any speech is “thank you”.
“Thank You!” Brooks said. “Thank you, FSC for your generosity, sacrifice, and hospitality.” With 20 years experience as a civil rights lawyer, Brooks adeptly enliven his topic:” A Selfie of Social Justice”. “Selfie referred to the images or pictures people take with their cell phones.
“If we took a selfie of social justice, what would it say, reflect, or describe?” Brooks asked. “I see a vision of images that would show captions of ‘voting’, ‘income and equality’, and ‘criminal justice’, a picture of game changers.” Brooks answered.
“99 percent of us are on a creaky down escalator to the sub basement of income and equality. It would reveal a people trying to build a life as life passes them by. He continued. “It would show the NAACP, the foot soldiers, standing with labor for the poor, fighting for a mini-mum wage, a living wage with a job that allows us to work with self worth and dignity. We have full time ambitions, aspirations dedication and dreams with part-time work,” explained Brooks
Commenting on criminal justice, Brooks referred to the “dark, dank generations of despair” of millions of Americans incarcerated. “The NAACP”, Brooks explained, “understands that a criminal record is not the full statement of a man’s humanity.” He compassionately connected Rosa Parks’ arrest for standing up for her rights. Her mug shot with a prisoner’s identification number, Brooks emphasized “was not the sum total of who she is as a child of God.”
Brooks also highlighted the work of the FSC under the leadership of President Adora Obi Nwesi, when it fought against the Miami Dade school system’s policy of arresting elementary and middle school students, who would receive criminal re-cords for minor offenses that would affect their employment opportunities in the future. Labeled the “School to the Prison Pipeline,” FSC fought, and FSC obtained a zero policy against the school system’s action. They put it to an end, Brooks emphasized.
‘Although some may be fatigued, disheartened and despaired entering this midterm election,” Brooks stated. He sees a vision of the NAACP that is multi racial and ethnical, where there’s room for everybody to lead.
Books concluded with the Supreme Court’s attack on the 1965 Voting Rights Act. “Amend the voting rights Act,” he commanded.
The audience hung on every word of his eloquent and in-formative speech, and the man of small statute who connected the relevance of the NAACP to today’s social, economic and political problems left the podium a compassionate giant, fighting for justice and civil rights for all people, and he received a loud standing ovation.
The FSC presented a $20,000 check to the NAACP National Organization, and Cornel W. Brooks received a Mont Blanc pen.
Other highlights of the three day convention included a candidates’ forum on Friday evening, where FSC adhered to the organization’s non-partisan policy of inviting candidates from all political parties to participate in its candidates’ forum. Moderator Leon Russell, Vice Chairman of the National Board of Directors for the NAACP, made it patently clear this is not a partisan affair, it’s not a political rally. It’s an opportunity for candidates to speak to our members.” Candidates from all political parties were invited, but only Democrats and one Libertarian candidate responded.
Democratic candidate for Governor Charlie Crist dropped by and discussed restoration of civil rights for ex-felons, an important issue for many African Americans who have completed their time in prison and are looking to move on with their lives, but can’t because if very difficult for them to find employment.
Other candidates included George Sheldon and Bill Wohlsifier both seeking to be elected Florida State Attorney General, Wil Rankin and Thaddeus Hamilton running for Chief Financial Officer and Commissioner of Agriculture respectively, and Gwen Graham, who’s in a closely watched race for U.S. Congressional District 2.
Senator Tony Hill presented the Tony Hill Labor Award to Charles Clark, AFL-CIO’s Southern Regional Director, and Dr. Rev. Rufus Woods was recognized for his work with the Bay County Branch.
FSC renewed its partnership with the Red Cross. Andrew Gillum, Mayor-Elect of Tallahassee, presided at the Freedom Fund Banquet.