The NAACP launched a “listening tour” in Detroit on Thursday, part of what it describes as a 21st century reinvention for a group touted as the United States’ oldest and largest civil rights organization.
The Motor City was the first stop for “NAACP Forward: Today, Tomorrow Always,” which seeks feedback from local members and supporters on how the group can tackle issues facing minorities today.
Detroit was selected as the inaugural gathering since “this is a place of activity and we have a strong branch here,” said Aba Blankson, the group’s vice president of communications. “We wanted to start here just to listen to what challenges people are facing and how we can help to alleviate those challenges.”
During its 108th annual convention in Baltimore last month, officials for the NAACP announced that the group would launch the initiative as part of a “strategic plan for the future” amid issues such as voter suppression, income inequality, mass incarceration, police brutality and anti-immigrant sentiment.
Leon Russell, the NAACP Board of Directors’ chairman, told about 100 people at Greater New Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit that “our obligation is to press for policies and enforcement of those policies in the legislative process, through litigation if necessary, and education by all means.”
NAACP members insisted there was a need to focus fighting for civil rights from the local level up.
“Any organizations who do not take the time to assess their values, their visions, the opportunities, are organizations that are doomed to fail,” said Derrick Johnson, the group’s interim president CEO.
He, Russell and the Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch, called for ideas and participation from the younger generation. “We need to understand that we need the strength of our youth and the wisdom of those who are tenured. You’ve got to have them both,” Anthony said. “When you have them both, you have a strong functional organization.”
Addressing how to approach the rise in hate crime reports, Russell advocated replacing “emotion with intellectual capacity.”
“We need to intellectually work to defeat racism in this country and from a spiritual standpoint, we’ve got to work on people’s hearts,” he said. “We’ve got to directly confront it.”
Anthony emphasized another goal: Encouraging voting in all elections.
“So many of us register, but we don’t vote,” he said. “There are states right now that are introducing bills to eliminate from the rolls those individuals who have not voted within the last three voting cycles. … In other words, they want to wipe the slates clean. That is a methodology to suppress the vote, to maintain a certain power base. We cannot allow that to occur.”
That message resonated with Rakuya Artis, a plant manager from Auburn Hills who hoped for more people at the polls last year.
“The voter turnout wasn’t what it should be, and it would have made a difference in several positions,” she said.
The event spurred John Carter, a business owner from Southfield, to consider joining the group. He has concerns about the Trump administration and hopes working with others to challenge the administration’s policies can lead to more change.
“We have to vote. We have to get involved,” he said. “We have to unite and organize.”