Fresh off their monumental victory in Maryland abolishing the death penalty, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held their three-day 'civil rights advocacy training institute' in hopes of advancing their remaining agenda for social equality in region seven – and with the most local chapter elected members present, the Baltimore City Branch represented as usual.
Thousands of local and state NAACP chapter members gathered in Herndon, Virginia – at the same time, and right around the corner, from the CPAC conservative convention – with a rededicated focus to legislative victories; as the smallest, yet most effective, region of NAACP leaders, hailing from Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C., came together to discuss issues, strategies and victories.
This year's Mid-Atlantic Region training focused on the life of the NAACP's first field secretary, Medgar Evers, with a renewed spirit to carry on his work to 'ensure the political, educational, social and economic rights of all people, through the elimination of racial hatred and discrimination', according to NAACP Board Chairwoman, Roslyn Brock.
With three days of effective seminars and training courses on a variety of issues, the nation's oldest and boldest civil rights organization was obviously motivated by their legislative victory in Maryland. On Thursday, the Maryland General Assembly officially passed the Death Penalty Repeal bill, an issue long sought by the group nationally, when the House of Delegates approved a measure already passed by the state senate, by a vote of 82 to 56. And with Governor Martin O'Malley as a longtime advocate for the repeal of capital punishment, it's merely a matter of days before Maryland becomes the 18th state in the country to repeal the measure.
Yet, the organization filled with 'freedom fighters' young and old alike, wasn't willing to stop there; as they presented a plethora of punitive policies and discriminatory laws that were a part of a larger strategic effort to repeal or overturn in the future. “In the past year, we unveiled the NAACP 21st Century Game Changers, including that of economic sustainability, education, equitable access to health care, public safety and criminal justice, along with voting rights and fair representation efforts,” says the President and CEO of the group, Benjamin Jealous.
“We have seen the impact upon our nation of a team with an unshakeable conviction to stay firmly engaged in the struggle for equality, and justice for all mankind. And we are that team, and we shall remain firmly and strategically engaged to win.”
And while the presentations by some of the group's most senior staff members remained strong and vigilant, it also represented a general theme – that the NAACP was a force to be reckoned with, through their young, vibrant and technologically savvy leaders, such as Dr. Niaz Kasravi.
The 39-year old national director for criminal justice represented a 'changing of the guard' that many have witnessed with the emergence of a young leader the likes of Jealous. The Iranian-born Kasravi led a workshop on how the group was poised to address issues relative to the lives of most African Americans in America; felony disenfranchisement, housing inequalities for those formerly incarcerated, disparities in employment through discriminatory hiring practices and other issues that disproportionately effect minorities all across this country.
Kasravi, who has a Ph. D in Criminology, Law and Society from the University of California, was joined in her training by the group's Director for Felony Disenfranchisement, Jessica Jeal. Both were young, attractive, intelligent and 'fired up' about the work they were tasked to take on; and if you dared underestimate their innate abilities based on their age, you were in for a rude awakening when they showed the room filled with the old guard, local chapter leaders, the way to get to prosperity for all - by way of innovative and strategic methods such as social media.
Yes, the NEW NAACP even has a newly minted national director for digital media, and plans to utilize the momentum of social sites such as Facebook and Twitter, along with e-blasts and text messaging campaigns that have proven effective in organizing mass movements in the past, to advocate social equality. Thus, it was of no surprise to see one of the savvy national board members utilizing the youth to spread the message of another long forgotten fight, the battle against the disease known as sickle cell.
Front and center in the hotel lobby, Don Cash, along with NAACP Young Leaders David Brody (14-Alexandria), Tiel Love (13-Richmond), Charity Ellis (17-Richmond) and Breona Lightner (18-North Chesterville), led the education efforts of promoting the deadly disease that has long been “swept under the rug”. With a wide variety of campaign paraphernalia, from coffee mugs to t-shirts and baseball caps; the group aimed to revitalize a campaign that has long been annihilated with the Reagan administration, based on the lack of funds.
“People don't realize that 1 in every 500,000 African Americans get sickle cell, as opposed to only 1 out of every 6 million whites,” says Cash, who formed the group, Faces of Our Children, in 1999 to raise awareness and bring attention to a disease that still plagues 100-million people worldwide.
“I started this after my friend Calvin died from the disease,” says Cash, who thought the disease had been cured after he hadn't heard anything else about it since the 70's. Yet, after his friend's death, Cash partnered with Howard University, who had money for research only, to educate lotti-dotti and everybody about the ways to avoid the painful disease. “It's really quite simple, if you have the sickle cell trait, don't mate with anyone who also has it, or else your baby will develop the disease – and trust me, it's not a pretty sight.”
In fact, one of the young NAACP leaders helping to promote the disease has the trait himself; and the young Mr. Love says that he feels its his mission to help educate people about a disease that is at times more painful than a woman giving birth. “A crisis is when someone with the disease has an episode, when the blood sickles, and this can cause severe pain, heart attacks, strokes and damaged organs,” says the 13-year old warrior.
Mr. Cash says that many people who had the disease couldn't get proper medical coverage before the passage of ObamaCare, because of the pre-existing condition; and says that the best deterrent to this disease is education.
“That's why we have young people promoting it, as they are not only planting the seed in other minds, but also in their own and amongst their peers; many of whom don't know, or choose to practice, preventive measures. People use to have to get tested for the disease before they got married, but those days are long gone. We now have 44-states that test newborns for the disease, while six states still don't test; so that shows you that we have plenty of gray areas that need to be covered with this disease, in order to protect the health and well being of all Americans, especially those who it affects the most – African Americans.”
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