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In front of a standing-room only crowd at the annual NAACP convention on Monday, July 14, Senator Barack Obama reaffirmed his message of Black people taking more responsibility for their actions as well as outlining his message as it relates to the Black community
During his first-ever address to the convention, held in Cincinnati, Ohio, Sen. Obama fired back at critics who accused him of talking down to Black people by telling the crowd that personal responsibility makes the greatest impact on improving their communities.
“It doesn’t matter how much money we invest in our communities, or how many 10-point plans we propose, or how many government programs we launch—none of it will make any difference if we don’t seize more responsibility in our own lives,” Obama said.
The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee called on the audience to provide guidance for children by “turning off the TV and putting away the video games, attending those parent-teacher conferences, helping our children with their homework and setting a good example.”
“I know that Thurgood Marshall did not argue Brown vs. Board of Education so that some of us could stop doing our jobs as parents,” he said, adding that the Little Rock Nine did not risk going to all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957 so that we would allow kids to drop out and pursue gangs for support.
Personal accountability was only part of the message as he spoke on his health-care plan as well as his strategy to improve public education. He also spoke on working to achieve economic justice as well as social justice.
The crowd of over 5,000— nearly half composed of young
delegates due to it being Youth Night—responded to his speech with a resounding standing ovation and afterwards, many had no problems with the senator’s tough talk.
“It was a speech of total honesty and it showed that he cared about all of us,” said Willis Edwards, a member of the NAACP national board of directors and resident of Los Angeles.
Roslyn Brock, vice-chairwoman of the NAACP National Board of Directors, agreed and added that the speech was “riveting, timely and to the point” with a message that resonated with all who were present.
Recognizing the history of the NAACP, Obama began by saying he was humbled to address the convention and remarked he stood in front of them because of “those who marched for us and fought for us and stood up on our behalf” and the “sacrifices that were made for us by those who never knew.”
He encouraged the young crowd to draw inspiration from civil rights heroes who started their journey at similar ages, citing Dr. Martin Luther King and U.S. Representative John Lewis (D-Georgia), who were 26 and 25, respectively, when they assumed positions of leadership.
Obama’s appearance preceded an silimar showing from the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain, who addressed the convention yesterday, July 16.
The speech came a week after Rev. Jesse Jackson, in a side conversation with a colleague, chastised Obama for “talking down to Black people” before threatening to emasculate him.
However, those sentiments were not shared by those in attendance, a point that Brock noted by saying it was “one of the most powerful statements of his entire speech.”
NAACP Chairman Julian Bond summed it up best by distinguishing what Obama did with what it means to talk down to someone.
“When somebody says you’re talking down to me, I generally think that means they’re talking at a level lower for me to understand. I thought he talked straight to us,” Bond said
Prior to Obama’s speech, NAACP president-elect Benjamin Jealous gave his first speech to the national membership that outlined his vision for the 99-year-old organization.
The 35-year-old Jealous received a standing ovation from the crowd that anticipated hearing more from him once he begins his term in September.
“It was full of ideas and the kind of fresh thinking that we know he’s going to bring to the NAACP,” Bond said.