By Amber D. Dodd,
Special to the AFRO

The NAACP held their 114th annual convention in Boston, Mass. from July 28 to July 31 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. The event was held under the theme of “thriving together.”

“The theme ‘thriving together’ means uniting activists, leaders and experts of all ages for critical discussions that will advance the future of Black America,” said Wisdom Cole, national youth and college director, in a press release about the conference. “Our NAACP youth and college members are the Association’s lifeblood. We remain committed to nurturing the Black leaders of tomorrow by connecting them with the trailblazers of today.”

The convention comes at a time when both the accuracy of Black narratives in American history and the ongoing controversy of book banning are garnering nationwide attention ahead of the 2023-2024 academic school year.

This year’s convention was organized with an emphasis on youth and college membership of the NAACP. The NAACP’s Afro-Academic Cultural, Technological Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) targets the NAACP’s youth members. 

The first day of the convention ended with the 46th National ACT-SO Competition, where guests were able to enjoy some of the inventions that participants created as part of their initiatives. The competition featured live entertainment and special appearances from celebrity guests. 

Boston Congresswoman Ayanna Pressly (D-MA-07), Florida Congressman Maxwell Frost (D-FL-10) and Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones (D-TN-52) were just a few of the lawmakers present to discuss issues regarding the fight for freedom and equality taking place across the country. 

“Young people continue to be at the forefront of our most critical movements–from the 1960s Civil Rights Movement to the movement for student debt cancellation,” said Pressley, in a statement released by the NAACP.

The NAACP conference included a freedom library made of books from the American Federations of Teachers. Their program “Reading Opens the World” gave way to an estimated 4,500 books that have been banned by school districts across the nation, including in Florida where Governor Ron DeSantis’ (R-FL) has issued a state-wide bans on certain books. 

A public convening of the NAACP’s National Board of Directors and an event focused on training for the Voter Activation Network also took place with the NAACP’s Civic Engagement team. The convention also held GenZ Culture Talk and an ACT-SO and Youth and College joint event that brought the nation’s youth and activists together.

NAACP Chairman Leon W. Russell delivered the opening mass meeting speech at the conference, emphasizing the need to decipher the “false prophets” throughout American history. He highlighted recent actions by the Republican Party leaning on racism, xenophobia and rolling back reproduction rights in recent years. The speech was made available for members of the press in full. 

“We must understand that the progress made in the last century on behalf of Black and Brown people, on behalf of women and the LGBTQ+ community are under attack,” Russell said. 

Russell spoke to the urgent need of removing officials who carry these sentiments through democratic practices such as voting in the upcoming local elections and the looming 2024 presidential election which will determine which party will pull America out of pressing issues such as the economic recession, telling American history’s full narrative around slavery and other racial topics and global warming. 

“With our votes, we can chop down the forest of bad trees that has sprouted from 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, and spread to state capitols, legislatures, city halls, and school boards across the country,” Russell said in his speech. “With our votes as our voices and our tools, we can and must clear this venomous plant from our public policy making places and we are obliged to replace these bad plants with good plants, policy makers who truly exhibit that they can and will produce good fruit.” 

A dozen of speakers gave remarks throughout the week-long conference. Speakers varied throughout America’s political and entertainment worlds, including Alfre Woodard. The storied actress and producer delivered a speech on Aug. 1 during the NAACP’s “Labor Luncheon and Symposium” to close out the conference. 

The NAACP convention was filled with appearances from prominent political figures such as Vice President Kamala Harris participating in a moderated conversation with NAACP’s Angela Campbell, captured and distributed by the White House’s press team. 

Harris has been a lifelong member of the NAACP, stating her confidence in the organization’s ability to produce adequate leaders in a moment when “there is a full-on attempt to attack hard-fought and hard-won rights and freedoms and liberty.” 

“What I know about the leaders who are here is that the members of the NAACP are up to the challenge,” Harris said. “We know every day we must be vigilant in protecting that which we have achieved and keeping our eyes on our vision — our collective vision of how we can continue to strengthen our nation.” 

Harris emphasized the need for another historic voter turnout for Democrats in the 2024 Presidential Election. The 2020 election saw record numbers of voters during the height of the pandemic without vaccinations yet. That dedication to participate in the democratic process of voting will be necessary again, along with the ongoing NAACP’s participating in organizing and mobilizing voters. 

“What you did in 2020, Joe Biden got elected President of the United States and I got elected the first Black woman to be Vice President of the United States,” Harris said over applause. “Because people voted.”