PLAINFIELD, NJ - The New Jersey State NAACP held its annual conference Oct. 10 through Oct. 13 at the Bally’s Casino and Hotel, Park Place and the Boardwalk, in Atlantic City.
Incorporating the theme, “Leadership by Design, Ensuring Our Legacy,” the conference featured many guest speakers, including Plainfield resident and former New Jersey Governor, Jim McGreevey, who spoke passionately about the need for effective prisoner re-entry programs. In his well-received speech, McGreevey emphasized the need for communities to help formerly incarcerated individuals succeed by providing jobs, housing, and a way to “reshape their character.”
Program participants, “want to change their lives,” McGreevey said. Raising statistics to underscore his point, McGreevey emphasized that what is needed “right now” is a “revolution.” “If it doesn’t catch on fire here, in this room,” speaking to the mostly African-American, audience of dedicated NAACP volunteers, “it won’t happen,” McGreevey said.
According to an official U.S. government site, each year, more than 700,000 people are released from state and federal prisons, while another 9 million cycle through the local jails. Additional statistics indicate that more than two-thirds of state prisoners are rearrested within three years of their release and half are re-incarcerated.
Celebrating approximately 104 years, the NAACP organization is known for its mission of helping hurting and violated people through raising awareness, changing laws that discriminate, and providing avenues for education. In a speech at the reception for a group of New Jersey church ministers who were being honored on Friday night at the event’s annual Gospel extravaganza, out-going President James E. Harris, who has served the organization for 8 years, as President, emphasized the importance of the Black church to the mission and successes of the NAACP.
“Since the founding of the NAACP by African Americans, Latinos, Whites and Jews,” said Harris, “We have always worked with people who share our values.” President Harris asked, “Isn’t it ironic that we are here at the 50th anniversary of the historic Alabama church bombing?” A surge of sighs could be heard in the room after Harris made this reference to the time when four young girls, all black members of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church, were killed in 1963 when a white supremacist planted a bomb in the church on a Sunday morning.
The National NAACP was founded in 1909 and is the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Its mission as described in the NAACP constitution that governs all units of NAACP, states: “The principle objectives of the Association shall be to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of all citizens of the United States, to remove all barriers of racial discrimination through democratic processes: to seek enactment and enforcement of federal, state, local laws securing civil rights: to inform the public of the adverse effects of racial discrimination and to seek its elimination; to educate persons as the their constitutional rights and to take all lawful action to secure the exercise thereof, and to take any other lawful action in the furtherance of these objectives, consistent with the NAACP's Articles of Incorporation and this Constitution."
Among the state’s most active members of the NAACP are Plainfield’s George Gore, and out-going Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. On Saturday, Robinson-Briggs lost her bid for a position on the NAACP governing body. Elected as President of the New Jersey State Conference was Richard T. Smith, who has served as Vice-President. Smith attended Trenton State College, now known as the College of New Jersey, where he was a Speech Communication & Theatre Major. In addition, he attended the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan, New York & Atlantic County College. Smith is a native of Trenton.