NAACP National Convention: Standing Our Ground and Moving Forward
As an intern for the NAACP Washington Bureau, I was afforded the opportunity to attend the NAACP National Convention, themed “We Shall Not Be Moved,” in Orlando (coincidently landing us in Florida just in time for the announcement of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case). In between some staff responsibilities, I attended plenary sessions, mass meetings, luncheons, workshops, a resolutions meeting and a variety of other events covering topics that ranged from the Voting Rights Act and the George Zimmerman case to Immigration and Veterans Affairs. I heard from NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, NAACP Chairwoman Roslyn Brock, Myrlie Evers-Williams, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Attorney General Eric Holder, several Members of Congress and countless others who each provided words of wisdom and inspiration.
At the first mass meeting, Chairwoman Brock delivered the keynote address in a powerful, preacher-like manner. This was the first time during the convention that I heard someone use the phrase “stand your ground” in a positive way, reclaiming the term that refers to a set of statutes passed in a number of states including Florida, which lower standards for killings based on self-defense and have increased “justifiable homicides” three-fold, according to the FBI. Chairwoman Brock said the following: “We are resolved at this hour to stand our ground with a reply that we shall not be moved.” I was at first taken aback by the boldness of using this phrase in such a manner—after all, we were only 30 miles away from Sanford, FL, where Trayvon Martin was killed. But as Chairwoman Brock used the phrase more and as I heard it again in others’ speeches, the phrase began to take on new meaning. It transformed from a frightening, threatening law to a statement of confidence, rootedness, and pride. It was no longer a defensive strategy, but a declaration of purpose and vision.
At the end of her speech, Chairwoman Brock invited all of the youth and college students in attendance to come to the front of the hall, asserting our leadership in the world today and announcing that we are standing our ground. In a swirl of passion, Chairwoman Brock asked the adults standing behind us to reach their arms out over us and state, “We’ve got your back” because “it takes a village to raise our children.” And as I turned around, I was overcome with emotion as I saw a hall comprised of generations of adults, with lifetimes of experience, extending their arms toward us. I looked to my left, and there stood Myrlie Evers-Williams and Julian Bond, champions of the civil rights movement. Down the row stood Benjamin Jealous and out in the crowd stood over 1000 NAACP members, declaring their support. As we chanted, “courage will not skip this generation,” I felt empowered to stand my ground because I will not be moved. I will stand my ground against bigotry and hatred. I will not be moved in the face of injustice. But more importantly, I will move forward because progress does not happen when we stand still.
As the NAACP slogan goes, I am “fired up, ready to go.” I became a member of the NAACP and look forward to staying involved with the organization in the fight for justice and equality. I came back from the convention with a bag full of flyers, information packets, freebies, and NAACP buttons, but more significantly, I came back with a fire lit within me and a mindset that change can and will happen. Together, we shall not be moved.
Emily Aronson is a rising junior in the Joint Program at Columbia University and the Jewish Theological Seminary, majoring in Ethnicity and Race Studies at Columbia and Jewish Philosophy at JTS. Originally from Bethesda, MD, Emily belongs to Temple Micah in Washington, DC.