Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Experience at the NAACP National Convention 2009

I enjoyed attending the NAACP’s 100th Annual National Convention. I was blessed with an opportunity to hear President Barack Obama and other great speakers such as NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, NAACP Vice Chair Roslyn Brock, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Congressman Al Green, Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, Lawyers Committee for Equal Rights Under Law Director Barbara Arnwine, attorney John Relman, former Director-Counsel and President of NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Theodore M. Shaw. I met Joe “The Black Eagle” Madison and appeared on his show with NAACP Interim General Counsel Angela Ciccolo and NAACP Board Member Dr. Ernest Johnson. I saw Chaka Khan and Thelma Houston perform. I met and took a photo with actor Jeffrey Wright. I had a great time listening to Tim Hagans Quintet at Birdland, attending the Connecticut State Conference’s reception at Jay Z’s 40/40 club and attending Ms. Brock’s reception. Of the five conventions that I have attended, this one was by far the most exciting and surprising.

As an NAACP staff attorney, I attend the NAACP’s Convention and assist with the Association’s Continuing Legal Education Seminar. In addition, the NAACP Legal Department runs an office at the Convention. The Legal Department disseminates valuable information to NAACP members. Besides legal work, I participate in general Convention activities.

Before I left for the Convention on Friday morning, July 10, 2009, I saw a news report on the Today Show that reminded me why America still needs civil rights organizations such as the NAACP. After making a reservation to use the Valley Club swimming pool located outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the owners decided cancel the African American kids’ reservation and return their payment shortly after they arrived. Valley Club employees allegedly complained that the kids were “changing the complexion” the swimming environment.

After hearing that news report, I packed my luggage and headed to Baltimore Penn Station. When I arrived at the New York Hilton, I checked into my hotel and rushed to attend the staff meeting.

On Saturday evening, July 11, 2009, I went to the world famous Birdland jazz club and listened to The Tim Hagans Quintet. They were great. Tim Hagans reminded me of Miles Davis in his later years. Similar to Miles, Hagan had shoulder length hair and played beautiful, sweet melodic numbers. I particularly enjoyed a cool boogaloo song that he played. I do not recall the name of the song.

On Sunday, July 12, 2009, the NAACP began its Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) Seminar. The first panel was the Legislative Update. The panelists included Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott, Congressman Al Green and NAACP Washington Bureau Director Hilary Shelton. Sounding more like a Baptist preacher than a member of Congress, Congressman Green gave a rousing speech about minimum wage and housing discrimination legislation.

Next, former NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Director Counsel and President Theodore Shaw gave and excellent presentation on the U.S. Supreme Court. He discussed the dynamics of the U.S. Supreme Court. He told us that Justice Clarence Thomas is the most conservative justice on race issues. In addition, Mr. Shaw said that he went to high school with U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Sotomayer. He rejected arguments that the Judge Sotomayer’s appointment was an affirmative action appointment. He further stated that she graduated at the top of the high school class above white and all other students. Since Sotomayor will be replacing Justice Souter, a moderate, her appointment will not affect the direction of the U.S. Supreme Court. He said that we will continue to see more 5-4 decisions. Mr. Shaw concluded by discussing Ricci v. Destefano and M.U.D. v. Holder.

Later, John Relman of Relman & Dane gave a housing discrimination presentation. He discussed the Zanesville case. In that case, the city deliberately deprived a segregated African American community of water for years. He stated that the segregated housing patterns made that discriminatory treatment possible. Moreover, he discussed the City of Baltimore’s lawsuit against Wells Fargo. The lawsuit alleges that Wells Fargo targets African Americans for sub prime loans. Consequently, African American neighborhoods are plagued by foreclosures and blight. As a result of that crisis, the City of Baltimore loses tax revenue and has to pay to board up abandoned homes.

After the first day of the CLE was over, I went to the Public Mass Meeting to hear NAACP Chairman Julian Bond and NAACP Vice Chair Roslyn Brock give powerful speeches. Both of them discussed the progress that we have made as a Nation and the progress that still needs to be made. In describing the great strides that the African American community has made, Ms. Brock said, “We went from the out house to the White House.” Julian Bond discussed the continuing need for the NAACP. He stated that in every social indicator African Americans continue to trail whites.

On Monday, July 13, 2009, the NAACP Legal Department had the Clarence Mitchell Memorial Luncheon. U.S. Attorney Eric Holder was the guest speaker. While I was standing by the door, NAACP Law Fellow Malcolm Ruff and I saw actor Jeffrey Wright. Malcolm said that he recognized Mr. Wright from John Singleton’s Shaft movie. My favorite Jeffrey Wright movie is Basquiat. I greeted Wright and asked if we could take a photo with him. We took the photo.

After taking my seat and listening to dignitaries give greetings, Eric Holder began his speech. It is very encouraging to hear Eric Holder say,“The Civil Rights Division is back in business.” I was proud to hear NAACP Interim General Counsel Angela Ciccolo say that Mr. Holder would not only go down in history as the first African American Attorney General but was one of the greatest Attorney Generals. Ms. Ciccolo proclaimed, “We have your back!” The crowd applauded.

Just when I thought the Luncheon was over, Ms. Ciccolo asked if I was in the room. I raised my hand and she asked me to come to the front of the room. I was seated in the back of the room. I proceeded to the front of the room. I thought that she wanted me to perform some task for her. When I arrived to the front of the room, Ms. Ciccolo announced that I was receiving the NAACP Legal Department Staff Lawyer of the Year Award. I was completely surprised. That was one of the happiest moments of my life. To receive this award from the world’s greatest civil rights organization at the 100th Annual National Convention before a such a prestigious group of lawyers, judges, scholars and activists was a great honor and privilege. It meant the world to me. The NAACP Law Fellows told me that they knew about it for weeks. They did a great job keeping it a secret.

After the Luncheon, I returned to the CLE and moderated a panel on 100 years of NAACP legal history featuring the Honorable Judge Nathaniel Jones, former Interim NAACP President and CEO and former General Counsel Dennis Courtland Hayes, University of Delaware Professor Leland Ware and others. Then, I listened to Charles Ogletree and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law Director Barbara Arnwine discuss future civil rights legal strategy.

On Tuesday, July 14, 2009, Angela Ciccolo asked me to go with her on the Joe “the Black Eagle” Madison Show radio show. I was a little bit nervous. Mr. Madison is one of my favorite radio personalities. When I worked in Washington, D.C., I listened to his show everyday.

Approximately ten minutes later, we met Board Member Dr. Ernest Johnson walked to Joe Madison’s booth at the New York Hilton Hotel. After Ms. Ciccolo and Dr. Johnson responded to Mr. Madison’s questions, Mr. Madison asked me about the division of work in the NAACP Legal Department. I told him that I handle in-house matters like contracts, insurance and estates. In addition, I told him that I handle public accommodations cases as well. Before I could tell him about the other types of cases that I handle, Mr. Madison essentially asked me to elaborate. I briefly mentioned the NAACP’s Myrtle Beach cases. I described how one hotel in Myrtle Beach actually refused to allow African American tourists to stay at the hotel during Black Bike Week 2008, an annual predominately African American motorcycle event which occurs during Memorial Day Weekend. The hotel owners actually filled the hotel to capacity with their white friends and employees free of charge in order to avoid serving African Americans.

During the Convention, I attended several receptions. Chairman Bond’s reception was good. NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous’ reception was chic and classy. The live band played a wide variety of dance music from old school R&B to contemporary hip hop. The NAACP Connecticut State Conference's reception at Jay Z's 40/40 club was great.

On Wednesday, July 15, 2009, I attended Ms. Brock’s reception. With all due respect, her reception was best. Her reception was on a yacht with three levels. The top deck provided spectacular views of the New Jersey and New York skylines. On the top deck, there was a gentle soothing breeze and Jill Scott’s music was playing in the background. Everyone was dressed in radiant white garments. The DJ was excellent. He played R&B classics and even some classic house music. The food was superb. I had a great time joking around with the NAACP Law Fellows and seeing my NAACP colleagues.

On Thursday, July 16, 2009, I stood in a long winding snakelike line in the New York Hilton Hotel waiting to enter the ballroom to hear President Obama speak. After waiting for over an hour, I finally entered the ballroom and found my seat on the balcony level. After eating my salad and dessert, a chocolate cup filled with berries and cream, the NAACP Event Planning Department Director Ana Aponte came to my table and other NAACP staff tables and told us to prepare to move in 30 minutes. She repeated the announcement several times.

At approximately 6:30 p.m., all the NAACP staff members lined up and exited the ballroom. Then, I realized that I was actually going to take a group photo with President Obama. We went down the escalator and entered a huge back room. There were four photo shoot locations set up, one for NAACP Board members, one for NAACP SCF members, one for New York officials and one for NAACP staff. While we were entering the back room, I saw Rev. Al Sharpton and took a few photos of him. While we were positioning for the NAACP group photo, I notice New York Governor David A. Paterson and took a photo of him. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of excitement as I waited for President Obama to enter the room. I tried to play it cool. The experience was surreal.

About 10 minutes later, President Obama entered the room and posed for photos with the Board and SCF members. Then, he headed toward us and I started frantically taking photos of him. Obama was smiling and joking with us. He extended his hand and shook our hands. Everyone was laughing and happy. No one told us that we were going to actually meet the President. That was such a wonderful surprise.

After the photo shoot, we returned to our seats and listened to President Obama give his address to the NAACP. During his speech Obama thanked the NAACP for making his election possible. He explained how the NAACP helped make America a more perfect union. He talked about persistent structural inequality. Furthermore, he stressed the need for health care reform, energy reform and financial reform.

Later in his speech, he described his visit to a slave dungeon in Africa that had a church on top of it. He said that that was an example of saying one thing and doing another thing. He mentioned his walk through the door of no return and said, “We have always persevered.”

Also, emphasizing the need for a quality education, Obama said, “A world class education is a prerequisite to success…Education is necessary to bring about equality.” He further stated that the education system needs “more money and more reform.” Obama also stressed the importance of personal responsibility. Without parent involvement, no government program will solve the problem. He said, “Parents must demand excellence.” He asserted that parents must stop their kids from playing video games. He further stated that everyone cannot be Lil Wayne or an NBA basketball star. He said we need more African American scientists and other professionals. It was a great speech.

After Obama gave his speech, Julian Bond received the Spingarn Award, the Association’s highest honor. Finally, Chaka Khan performed. I loved hearing her sing Angel and Through the Fire. It was great meeting President Obama. I will remember this Convention for the rest of my life.