NAACP, local leaders plan inclusive convention

Come July 25 of next year, more than 10,000 NAACP members from across the country are expected to convene in Boston for the national civil rights group’s 111th annual convention. Mayor Martin Walsh, Gov. Charlie Baker and other city and state officials made it clear last week they intend to roll out the red carpet for the organization.

“This convention will be a milestone event in Boston’s history,” Walsh said, speaking during a Dec. 12 press conference held with Baker and NAACP officials at the Bruce Bolling Municipal Building.

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said the conference comes at an important time in the nation’s history, coming nine days after the 2020 Democratic National Convention.

“Our Democracy is at an inflection point,” he said. “We have to play close attention moving forward.”

Typically, during NAACP conventions, Democratic and Republican nominees for the presidency address the gathering. Presidential candidates have often used the occasion to signal support for policies favored by African Americans and court the black vote. But Johnson said the NAACP will not play into the divisive rhetoric that has characterized much of the country’s conservative politics.

“We will not surrender the microphone for racial hate speech,” he said. “We will not surrender the microphone to anyone who’s not willing to speak to the issues that are germane to the African American community specifically and to this nation in general. At the NAACP, it is our role to make democracy work for everyone.”

Walsh, too, called the current political moment “pivotal” and said Boston will play a key role.

“As we lead into the 2020 election, the eyes of the world will be on Boston during that week because of the conversations we’ll be having in our city,” he said.

While there will likely be a focus on national issues during the convention, NAACP Boston Branch President Tanisha Sullivan said the event affords Boston the opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to racial justice and equity within the city as well as across the country.

“This is an opportunity for all of us to transform something that could simply be a moment in our history into a renewed catalytic movement centered on racial and economic equity and inclusion for all neighborhoods across this city,” she said.

A boost for local business The convention is expected to bring in millions of dollars of business for the city as activists, business leaders and political figures from across the country converge on Boston to address members of the premier African American organization. State Sen. Nick Collins, in whose 1st Suffolk District the Convention Center is located, sponsored a budget amendment to pump $200,000 into the convention. In addition, the Rockefeller Foundation has committed $300,000

Collins, who noted the state often funds events such as Sail Boston, said the city will benefit greatly from the convention.

“I believe the state needs to be behind this,” he told the Banner. “It will allow us to move forward the conversation on diversity and equity and inclusion in this city.”

At the press conference last Friday, state Rep. Russell Holmes said Collins’ budget amendment is just the beginning.

“If you don’t drop another quarter of a million in House [budget] two, know that I’ll be looking to get the rest of it,” he said, addressing Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, eliciting laughter from the audience.

Holmes also said he would be looking to make sure that minority-owned businesses have the opportunity to obtain contracts related to the conference.

“When I think of this opportunity, this is about how we make sure we use every vendor we possibly can use from our community,” he said. “This is about making sure that when the NAACP leaves here, you have left a solid foundation for the local branch, left a sound foundation for our community.”

Johnson said the national NAACP organization has a firm commitment to extending opportunities to local vendors.

“It’s always about the NAACP being as inclusive as possible, making sure we promote and provide opportunities for African American vendors,” he said. “We’ll be working with Tanisha and the local community to help identify vendors.”

Beyond the Convention Center While the five-day conference will take place at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport District, Walsh said he expects neighborhood residents to participate.

“This convention is not just coming to Boston,” he said. “This convention is coming to our neighborhoods. An it’s something that we want to make sure all Bostonians are part of and proud of.”

Walsh said NAACP officials have been touring Boston, scouting locations for workshops, forums and parties.

“We want to make sure everyone has the opportunity to experience the NAACP’s history and traditions,” he said.