NAACP in Baltimore

91st annual convention: Politics, economic development are among topics at this week's gathering.

July 09, 2000

THIS YEAR'S convention of the NAACP will, as always, offer an important glimpse into the African-American community's diversity.

The 6,000 delegates to the convention represent all walks of life, a wide spectrum of opinions. Yet they will be under one roof -- the Baltimore Convention Center -- debating the organization's priorities and direction. The nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization is preparing to take on such pressing issues as presidential politics, economic development and the death penalty.

The presumed presidential nominees of both major parties -- Al Gore and George W. Bush -- are scheduled to address delegates, allowing for the kind of dialogue that was impossible four years ago. That's when GOP candidate Bob Dole shunned the NAACP's invitation in a manner that shocked even some members of his party.

President Clinton is also scheduled to participate in the 91st annual convention, whose theme "Race to Vote" reflects the NAACP's commitment to voter registration and education. According to NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, the group is 70 percent of the way to its goal of registering 4 million new voters in time for the November presidential and congressional elections.

The organization, headquartered here in Baltimore, formally kicks off its convention today stronger than ever as an organization. That's thanks in part to the work of Mr. Mfume, the former Baltimore congressman.

During his tenure, the organization has not only overcome financial and image problems but has begun to enroll more young people. In fact, Mr. Mfume says, the largest number of its new members -- enrolled in its 1,700 local branches and 141 college chapters -- are between ages 18 and 35.

The NAACP's commitment to young people is also evident in its ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) program. This afternoon, 75 high-school students from around the country will be awarded gold, silver and bronze medals after two days of competition involving 2,000 participants.

Once described by some as growing irrelevant, the NAACP has shown otherwise, engaging young people as it moves toward its centennial.

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