The NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights group, hosted its 13th annual Leadership 500 Summit over the weekend, as it attempted to forge a path in an increasingly divided America.
The three-day summit, held Aug. 31-Sept. 2 in Hollywood, Florida, and themed “Breaking Barriers and Leading the Future,” addressed numerous topics including civic engagement, economic freedom, political equality and social justice.
NAACP officials from across the country, including interim President Derrick Johnson, joined millennial participants at the Diplomat Beach Resort to discuss how to achieve a more progressive future.
“This year’s summit lands at a turning point in both the history of our association, and of our country as a whole,” Johnson said. “We are combating threats to our civil liberties, both old and new, and it will take a coalition of industries and professionals, such as the L500, to move the needle in our journey towards a society that promotes equality, justice, and environmentally sustainable. The NAACP is duly committed to these principles, and will continue to uplift the L500 as we work together to achieve these goals.”
The event charged many officials, civil rights activists and clergy with reevaluating the organization as a whole and confronting important issues such as social unity, academic barriers and uneven economics.
“If we really want to see change we have to ask ourselves if we’re going to save and protect Social Security, provide health care, rebuild schools, create jobs and reduce taxes,” said the Rev. Delman L. Coates, senior pastor of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Maryland. “If we say yes, the question then becomes, ‘how will we fund it?’ Will we fund it with private money, which means private banker borrowed money, or will we fund it by the people’s money? … By public money, interest-free … which is possible. If we do not end this debt cylinder, we will continue to find ourselves in this situation.”
Guest moderator Bakari Sellers, social activist and former South Carolina state congressman, stressed the importance of participating in such events amid the current political climate.
“I think that having a discussion about the future of NAACP, securing its future and understanding how we navigate in Trump’s America is an essential conversation to have,” Sellers said.
During the summit, leadership officials also launched their first annual NEXGEN program, which targets and prepares young adults between the ages of 21 and 35 to assume leadership within the NAACP’s adult branches.
The initiative is in line with the organization’s National Youth and College Division, which aims to cultivate millennials to become activists and strong leaders, said Akosua Ali, president of the NAACP’s D.C. chapter.
“Positions such as these include but are not limited to political action chairs, health chairs, environmental justice chairs and branch leaders,” Ali said. “We have been very fortunate to have to the support of national and youth board members who have all given input into what is needed for young people to remain active to remain engaged and to be strong leaders within this organization, and we are no less than immensely excited about the future of the NAACP through this program.”