The Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials plans to hold its 2008 Fall Conference, a Thursday until Saturday event, in Claxton next October.
The group, which recently held its 2007 Fall Conference in Augusta, has more than 800 members. Its president, state Rep. Tyrone Brooks, said the number is approaching 1,000 and is limited neither to African Americans nor to elected officials, although the elected officials in its membership range from members of Congress to members of local school boards and city councils.
Brooks credited the efforts of Claxton City Councilman Jerome Woody, and letters of support he garnered from the city of Claxton and the Claxton-Evans County Chamber of Commerce and calls from area clergy, with
the association's decision to bring the 2008 Fall Conference to Claxton. The conference is not the group's convention – which is held every June in Savannah – but is one of two seasonal events the association moves to different cities each year. The other moveable event is the GABEO board meeting, which will be held at Washington, Ga., next February.
"Councilman Jerome Woody and (the) mayor sent us a wonderful letter extending an invitation to us to hold our Fall Conference next October in Claxton and we look forward to coming to Claxton," Brooks said.
Woody, he added, has tried to bring a GABEO event to Claxton for years, and people all over Georgia issue similar invitations on behalf of their communities.
"We get these invitations and we have to kind of prioritize and rate them based on the cooperation of the city, the chamber of commerce, the local officials, the community interest, and we see there's a great deal of
interest on the part of Claxton," Brooks said.
Between 300 and 500 people often attend a fall conference, including association members and guests from around the state and interested local people, according to Brooks. He said that the number varies widely depending on the size of the host community and the attraction of other events that coincide with the conference. For example, the recent conference in Augusta was held along with the CSRA (Central Savannah River Area) Football Classic weekend.
Woody carried a shipment of Claxton Fruitcakes, donated by the Claxton Bakery, to the Augusta conference. When the cakes ran out and conference attendees wanted more, Brooks said he told them they would have to come to Claxton next October.
"We're just honored that people understand our work and our mission," Brooks said. "When they come to GABEO they see federal officials, state officials, county officials, municipal officials; they see community leaders, members of the clergy of all denominations; they see civil rights activists, educators, business people. So it1s a great place to network, but also it1s a great place to come and receive information that can help you perform better at the local level for your constituents."
Woody said he is grateful to the city, the Chamber of Commerce and the Evans County Branch of the NAACP for their support in bringing the conference to Claxton.
"Twenty years ago I never would have envisioned that we would be hosting a black elected officials conference," Woody said. "We have really grown and made progress in race relations."
He added that as a child, he never would have imagined himself becoming an elected official, and now his town is to host a gathering of black elected officials from around the state. He said it will be a boost to local business and will give Claxton positive exposure in the statewide media.
"I'm excited about it, can you tell?" Woody said. "It's going to take a lot of planning and hard work, but I believe it can be done."
The exact dates for the conference have not been set, although Brooks said it will probably be in late October. Nor has GABEO selected exactly where in Claxton it will hold its meetings. That determination will be left to Woody and other local people, Brooks said.
Mayor Luther Royal confirmed that he sent a letter inviting GABEO to Claxton."Jerome came to me about this and was talking about the economic impact it would have in our community by bringing these elected officials in and kind of showcasing our community," Royal said. "I thought it would be a good idea and that's why I support it. It will definitely be a boost to the local businesses for Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with gas and food and lodging."