NAACP conventiongoers say they are energized from their Detroit experience

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — As the NAACP wrapped up its 110th annual convention on Wednesday, members and leaders said the event energized them to go back to their local chapters and continue civil rights work in their communities.

Topics of importance among the 10,000 attendees were the criminal justice system, the upcoming presidential election and the 2020 U.S. Census.

Michael Reed, 39, of Denver, talks about the NAACP convention at Cobo Center in Detroit on Wednesday.

Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the NAACP,  said Wednesday he believes the convention will be one of the most significant that the association has had. This is the eighth year the city has hosted the national convention. Next year, it will be held in Boston.

“It was a good time bridging between 2019 and 2020 as we approach the presidential election and get ready for the census bringing everybody together,” Anthony said. “The entertainment was good, the speakers, the workshops, the plenary sessions. So Boston got to get up. All roads lead to Detroit. We’re getting ready to take the street to Boston.”

Attendees said the city of Detroit was a welcoming host for convention and they’ve taken notice of the downtown area’s revitalization.

“Detroit, they did a really good job here,” said Ralph Martin, a Saginaw resident. “You’ve got a really strong NAACP coalition here in Detroit anyway, and they pulled it off.”

Martin attended the convention on Wednesday to hear presidential candidates speak during a forum earlier in the day. He joined his fiancée, Lisa Coney, who had attended the convention since Saturday. Both are members of their local NAACP executive committee.

“I was impressed with the candidates and their interviews, and I think the NAACP did excellent with the forum,” he said.

Ralph Martin, left, and Lisa Coney, both of Saginaw, talk about their experiences at the NAACP convention at Cobo Center in Detroit on Wednesday.

Martin also said he’s seen improvement in the city. He noted the friendliness at various venues, including Cobo Center. He said the convention was on par with San Antonio last year, and he plans to attend Boston next year.

“Everybody was really nice and treating the guests, nice hospitality,” he said. “Detroit has good hospitality here.”

Coney said she attended several sessions since arriving for the convention on Saturday. One event that stood out for her was the Criminal Justice Workshop that included Yusef Salaam, a member of the Central Park Five, a group of four black men and one hispanic man who were wrongfully convicted as teenagers for rape. Salaam was exonerated in 2002.

“It was really awesome,” she said. “He talked about his story and the need to revitalize the criminal justice system or the injustice system as they were calling it.”

After the workshop, Coney said she had a chance to talk with Salaam about her work at the Juvenile Detention Center in Saginaw County.

Another highlight for Coney was attending an award ceremony recognizing youth for their participation in ACT-SO, Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics.

This was Coney’s first time attending a national convention.

“I loved it and all the information and strategies and the ideas to take back to our different communities to really impact and implement a change in our communities to make sure next year with the census and presidential election that some things really have to chance to make our communities thrive the way that they should be able to,” she said.

Michael Reed of Denver, Colorado, and said he was interested in meeting with other NAACP members from across the country. He is the second vice president of the Denver NAACP.

“We don’t really get to have much contact with branches unless you’re part of the convention like this,” he said. “The ability to have access to all these leaders, all the young talent and just to see everybody coming together that’s the main reason I wanted to attend.”

Reed said the city gave him a good impression. This was his first time visiting. 

“It’s a great host city, very genuine people, down to earth,” he said. “I love that it’s revitalizing. The food has been great. There’s been a lot to do here. It’s great to see that the city is coming back.”

Reed said that he had a chance to drive through some of the neighborhoods during his visit.

“I can tell with the people that I’ve spoken with that are from here, they say things are getting a little better incrementally,” he said.

Oliver Warren, a member of the NAACP Chapter in Wayne County, Ohio, attended sessions discussing legislative policy and an LGBTQ panel tackling the issue of anti-gay crimes and homophobia.

Warren said when he returns home from the convention, he wants to start a youth council. At 24, Warren said he’s the youngest active member within his branch, however, the branch’s 100-plus membership does include some college students.

“We’ve got a lot of young people, and they could really benefit,” he said.

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN