A few members of the Newton County chapter of NAACP Youth received the gift of a lifetime when local businesses and individuals donated the funds for the girls to attend the celebration of 100 years of bold dreams and big victories in New York.
Founded in 1909 by a group of white liberals as a direct response to continued occasions of lynching as well as a race riot in Illinois the year before, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the nation’s oldest grassroots-based civil rights organization, according to their Web site.
A century has passed since the first 60 people issued a call for a meeting to discuss racial justice, and to celebrate that, the annual meeting for the NAACP came complete with celebrity speeches, a visit from President Barack Obama and several different lectures for the members of NAACP Youth organizations that attended as well as musical performances.
After a 17-hour bus ride, NAACP Youth secretary Dalicia Gresham, 14, Treasurer 17-year-old Naomi Wills and 12-year-old assistant Evan Jemison, along with advisor Cathelene Perry and chaperone Karen Briscoe, arrived in the Big Apple.
"There was a lot to see," said Gresham. "We stayed in the Marriott Marquee – just a block from Times Square – and got to visit all the major landmarks. But we also got to go to classes at the convention so that we could learn how they made the NAACP happen 100 years ago."
Perry said that the community pulled together to sponsor the pricy trip, without which none of them would have been able to go. She decided to take some of the group’s officers so that they could bring the message they learned at the conference back to the rest of the chapter members.
"We didn’t want this to be just a social event," said Perry. "We went there to learn and they did learn."
With more than 900 NAACP Youth members from around the country there, the girls were excited about the opportunity they had to network with other members in many of the classes.
"They taught us how to recruit other members," said Gresham, "and how to tell them about the purpose of the NAACP."
Jemison agreed, "We met so many people from different cultures," she said. "And we got to interact with them and that helped us learn even more than we know already."
Perry said that some people have forgotten about the NAACP and the principles it stands for, but that she hopes this conference and the message the girls intend to spread will remind the community.
"We had some ideas when we went to New York," said Wills, "but we learned so much from everyone there. Now we can bring all that we learned – all those new ideas – back to Newton County and use them here."
All three girls, as well as Perry, expressed their thanks for those who made the trip possible by donating funds, which paid for everything from the bus ride to the hotel rooms.
"We were very lucky," said Gresham. "Some people will never get an opportunity like this. We were just so fortunate."