Thursday through Saturday, member delegates from all over the state will gather in Statesboro for the 73rd Annual Georgia NAACP Convention. National NAACP President Cornell William Brooks is scheduled to give the keynote speech Friday, and the Georgia NAACP president, the Rev. Dr. Francys Johnson of Statesboro, will be nominated for election to a second two-year term.
“I’m really excited about showcasing Bulloch County,” Johnson said in an interview last week. “Now, we have our challenges, but I think we have a critical mass of people who want to see our community progress.”
Organizers invite the public to the Community Mass Meeting, 7 p.m. Thursday in the Emma Kelly Theater at the Averitt Center for the Arts. Convention events where meals are served, including the luncheon where Brooks will speak, require purchased tickets. But free, open forums and panel discussions, most at the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center, will deal with voting rights, education and faith-based efforts to heal the racial divide, among other topics. See the complete schedule at the end of this story.
‘How far we’ve come’
Just three months ago, Johnson stood before the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners to argue that a Confederate monument, installed in 1909, should be removed from the courthouse grounds. He successfully insisted that memorial defenders who brought Confederate battle flags into commission chambers where the discussion took place be required to take the flags outside. But the commissioners, at a second meeting, voted unanimously to keep the memorial where it is.
Others have said that the debate showed how far Bulloch County still has to go on race relations. But Johnson, an attorney and Baptist minister whose law office is down the street from the memorial, said he takes a different view.
“We had a very controversial issue raised; it touched on the emotions of our community on both sides of that debate; we had a very thoughtful exchange of ideas; at times a contentious exchange of ideas, but we had a debate,” he said. “Nobody was injured, there were no incidents of violence. There were not even any threats made.”
Points were heard, and after a long discussion, a decision was made, he observed.
“And although that decision wasn’t a favorable decision to the NAACP’s position, we got through that, and the ability to talk and search for the common good is at the heart of that,” Johnson said.
“There was a vote to remove Confederate flags from the meeting, which I thought was an important step, and there was a vote to leave the monument where it is, which is a very beautiful monument which honors the valor of men who gave their life for this soil. I can see that,” he said. “I respect that, and also respect the way that we had this debate in our community. That doesn’t show how far we have to go. That shows how far we’ve come.”
A just society
The convention’s theme is “Towards a Just Society.”
Since the Georgia NAACP held a quarterly meeting in Statesboro in January 2014, much rough water has passed under the bridge. The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri in August 2014 and other deaths of black Americans at the hands of police fueled the Black Lives Matter movement. Then the murder of nine black people at a Charleston, South Carolina, with the accused shooter being a white supremacist, led to the removal of Confederate flags from the South Carolina Capitol grounds and other public spaces.
However, Johnson, who came into office saying that the Georgia NAACP would pursue “red, white and blue issues” instead of “black-and-white” issues, says that continues to be the case.
“If I had to define what we’ve been working on for the last two years, we’ve been working on voting rights and securing those for another generation,” Johnson said. “We’ve also been working on quality of life issues for all Georgians.”
Some convention sessions will deal with diversity in the judiciary system, the interface between police and their communities, and grassroots organizing from the perspective of Black Lives Matter youth activitists. But there will also be discussions on voting rights, education, fair housing, workforce readiness and the meaning of a sustainable economy, health and wellness, and the Georgia NAACP’s legislative agenda for 2016.
Unlike the January 2014 event, which was held mostly downtown, the convention will be based mainly at the Nessmith-Lane Conference Center on the Georgia Southern campus. However, a few specific events are planned at the Averitt Center, the SpringHill Suites Conference Center and the GSU Russell Union.
All 123 units of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP were invited to send representatives, Johnson said. Units include community branches, collegiate chapters and youth councils, and Bulloch County has one of each.
Quarterly meetings like the one last year typically draw 200 to 300 members, but the annual convention should bring more, said Demetrius Fisher, Georgia NAACP State Conference program manager. He and Johnson said no challengers are expected in Johnson’s re-election as state president.
The Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP, its Youth Council and the Georgia Southern Collegiate Chapter of the NAACP are all hosting the state convention, said Bulloch County Branch President Pearl Brown. Johnson also named the GSU Center for Africana Studies as one of the host organizations.
Brown, a retired educator, said she is especially looking forward to the workshop discussions. For example, school superintendents and education experts are scheduled to discuss pros and cons of Georgia’s proposed Opportunity School District for underperforming schools on Friday afternoon.
“That’s going to be open to everyone,” Brown said. “You can attend any of these workshops, and a lot of these workshops are simultaneous.”
So members from a local branch will attend workshops on different topics and then report at local meetings about what they have learned, she said.
This is not the first time that Bulloch County has hosted a state NAACP convention, but rotating among various cities, the event comes around rarely, Brown said. She said the convention was last held in Statesboro a little over 20 years ago.
A state committee looks at what a community can provide in offering to host the convention, she said.
“I’m just happy and enthusiastic and looking forward to it,” Brown said.
73rd Annual NAACP Georgia State Convention – Published Schedule
THURSDAY, OCTOBER 8, 2015
Noon - Faith and Values Luncheon - Leaders representing the major faith and religious movements in Georgia will break bread; review this past year's pertinent issues; and hear a message from the Rev. Paul A. Sheppard, Senior Pastor of the Thankful Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia.
10 Student Leaders seats available. RSVP required here.
2:00 PM - Religious Leaders Roundtable - An ecumenical roundtable will explore the civil rights/social justice efforts within our respective work and broader questions of how we take specific steps of unified action to heal the racial divide in the nation.
· 7:00 PM - Community Mass Meeting at the Averitt Center Emmy Kelly Theater - a power packed night of praise, worship, and reflections on where we are in the quests for a just society. Elected, civic and community leaders will give remarks and the Rev. Winfred Hope of the Ebenezer Baptist Church will deliver the Ralph Mark Gilbert Lecture.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 9, 2015
7:30 AM - Labor and Industry Game Changer Breakfast - Workforce readiness, favorable business climates; competitive wages; and organized labor are integral parts of a sustainable economy. With strong export assets in Hartsfield-Jackson Airport and the Georgia Ports and Savannah to the South, Georgia is poised to lead the nation in global development. This breakfast aims to highlight successes in Georgia on these fronts and hear from state and national labor and business leaders. UFWC National Leader Robin Williams will give the morning talk. 111:00 AM - Diversity on the Bench Panel Discussion - The Georgia NAACP recognizes that judicial diversity is essential to helping our judiciary deliver equal justice, restoring the public’s faith in the legal system, and to countering perceptions of systemic bias that currently exist. A panel of legal experts will assess Georgia's progress and present solutions. Noon - Convention Keynote Address by the Hon. Cornell William Brooks, President and CEO of the National NAACP - Brooks leads the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization and will present on its 21st Century Agenda.
TICKETED EVENT - Tickets available here.
2:00 PM - EDUCATION FORUM I: Current Challenges and Opportunities with Georgia HBCUs - In part 1 of a 2 part conversation on Education, university presidents and thought leaders in higher education discuss the role of a world-class public and accessible higher education plays in building a more just society as well as current challenges and opportunities. CONCURRENT SESSION | at 3:30 PM - EDUCATION FORUM II - In part 2 of a 2 part conversation on Education, superintendents and K-12 experts assess the pro's and con's of Georgia's proposed Opportunity School District in quest to secure high-quality public education for all of Georgia's children. CONCURRENT SESSION | at 3:30 PM - Closing the Gap Workshop: A look Georgia's Housing Market - According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, blatant acts of housing discrimination faced by people of color continue to decline, yet more subtle forms of housing denial stubbornly persist. Learn about strategies from private and government sector to close the gap. YOUTH AND COLLEGE PUBLIC SESSION | 7:00 PM at Russell Union- YES, BLACK LIVES MATTER - The Georgia NAACP Youth and College's present a night of social awareness of the issues of policing, criminal justice and exercising the right to vote. The program will feature areas fraternity and sorority step teams, spoken word artists, food, dance, and music.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2015
10:30 AM - 11:00 AM and 2:00 PM - 2:30 PM - CPR ANYTIME TRAINING - Program conducted by the Bulloch County EMS and the American Heart Association allows anyone to learn the core skills of CPR in just 20 minutes using their own personal kit. The kit contains everything needed to learn basic CPR, AED skills and choking relief anywhere, from the comfort of your home to a large group setting.
10 Student Leaders seats available each session. RSVP required here.
· CONCURRENT WORKSHOP | 10:30 AM - 11:45 AM PM -Economic Sustainability Workshop: Financial Literacy and Economic Freedom - Making thoughtful and informed decisions about your finances is more important than ever. Several economic trends are converging that demonstrate the importance of financial literacy. A panel of financial and legal experts present best practices for securing economic freedom and practical insights.
CONCURRENT WORKSHOP | 10:30 AM - 11:45 AM - Health and Wellness Workshop - People from diverse communities often face additional barriers to treatment, such as discrimination and a lack of culturally competent mental health providers and services. It is crucial that a comprehensive plan to improve services and outcomes for people of color with mental illness address these surrounding circumstances as well as specific treatment and service issues. Leading mental health experts present on developments and challenges in the field. YOUTH AND COLLEGE SESSION | 10:30 - 11:45 AM - YES, BLACK LIVES MATTER: Understanding Trends and Tactics 21st Century Grassroots Organizing - In part 1 of a 2 part conversation with young adult activists from the American Friend Service Committee, Moral Monday Georgia, and It's Bigger than You, attendees will explore the history of grassroots organizing and activism within the historic civil rights movement and the new movement taking shape. NOON - ADVOCACY LUNCHEON - Delegates will from political leaders of both parties and updates on the Georgia NAACP's legislative agenda. Georgia Black Caucus Chair Representative Dee Dawkins will provide the Luncheon Special Remarks.
TICKETED EVENT - Tickets available here.
VOTING RIGHTS PANEL | 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM A panel discussion celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This commemorative panel featuring leading lawyers from the ACLU, NAACP LDF, SCLC among others discussing the struggle to protect and expand the right to vote. YOUTH AND COLLEGE SESSION | 2:00 PM - 3:15 PM The Intersection: The Law and You - A practical look from judges, lawyers and police officers the intersection between the law and citizens. 7:00 PM - 73rd Annual Freedom Gala - The Georgia NAACP will close the Convention with a Gala featuring live music and awards.
TICKETED EVENT - Tickets available here.
Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.