Last week, the National Action Network held their annual conference at the Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel in Manhattan. With over five thousand attendees, it was the largest convention to date and the biggest national civil rights convening of the year.
The conference kicked off with a ribbon cutting ceremony with the group's founder and president, Reverend Al Sharpton and New York City Mayor Mayor Bill de Blasio. US Attorney General Eric Holder was the opening day keynote speaker. Holder, a native New Yorker felt right at home and honored the memory and living legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King who died 46 years ago on April 4. “Dr. King dedicated his career to the service of others,” said Holder.
“Each year, I am reminded of the enduring wisdom of Dr. King’s words and the shining example of his deeds as contemporary leaders come together at forums like this one. Not merely to honor him and so many others who have gone before, but to confront the challenges of our time.”
The National Action Network is one of the leading civil rights organizations in the country with over 70 chapters in the U.S. The organization works extensively to promote a modern civil rights agenda, which includes the fight for equality of opportunity for all people regardless of race, class or sex, social justice for all communities, education, non-violence, equality in healthcare and improvement of race relations.
The conference's first night concluded at the Sheraton Ballroom with NAN's 16th Annual "Keepers of the Dream" Awards and Dinner. The $1500-a-plate gala was co-hosted by Reverend Al Sharpton and Wendy Williams. Held every April, the Keepers of the Dreams Awards marks the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s death and honors those who have continued to advocate for the principles for which he gave his life.
US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was the special guest speaker for the event. New York state governor Andrew Cuomo and Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin were notables in attendance. Honorees of the award show included: Bishop Victor Curry, Deborah Elam,Tamron Hall, Gerry Hudson, Rachel Noerdlinger, Don Thompson and Michael Weinstein.
The talk show host was also presented with a "Keepers of the Dreams" award of her own. “She’s been a personal role model in her commitment to education and in the community,” said Reverend Sharpton.
"I am a Jersey girl,” said Williams upon her acceptance.“Our show right now is on a two-and-a-half week hiatus. I just came back from vacation yesterday and normally when we’re on break, I’m a Jersey girl and I stay in Jersey and I do not cross the Hudson. But when the Reverend calls, you put on a good dress and you come.”
Thursday's highlighted events included the Women's Power Breakfast Workshop featuring MSNBC's Joy-Ann Reid, New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray and EBONY Editor-in-Chief Amy Dubois Barnett. Other events included a media panel moderated by Reverend Sharpton on the role of media in crafting the social narrative, featuring the Amsterdam News' Elinor Tatum, The Nation editor and publisher Katrina Vanden Heuvel and WPIX-TV's Jay Dow.
There was also a panel devoted to My Brother's Keeper, an initiative recently penned into law by President Obama. Dr. Michael Eric Dyson was the moderator for the event, while Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, A.J. Calloway and Tracy Martin, father of Trayvon Martin were panelists of that discussion.
Speaking of the President, the POTUS was the keynote speaker on Friday. In his 25-minute address, President Obama lightly discussed his Are You My Brother's Keeper initiative and also blasted the Republican party for threatening voting rights in America for both blacks and other minorities.“The right to vote is threatened today in a way that it has not been since the Voting Rights Act became law nearly five decades ago,” said Obama.
“About 60% of Americans don’t have a passport. Just because you don’t have the money to travel abroad doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote at home.”
Obama even poked fun at Republicans: “Just to be clear I know where my birth certificate is,” joked Obama. “I think it’s still up on a website somewhere. Do you remember that?”
The NAN Convention concluded on Saturday with its annual leadership forum, “Measuring the Movement: 50 Years After President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty.” There was also a youth summit led by NAN Youth Move, HIV/AIDS awareness and State of Prisons which featured an Up in Smoke panel discussing the banning of menthol cigarettes, marijuana legalization and criminalization of African Americans.
The last event during the National Action Network Conference was Sharpton Entertainment's “Flaunting My Expression,” a fashion and talent showcase organized by Ashley Sharpton, Reverend Sharpton's youngest daughter. The fashion show was hosted by Puma and Sassy of VH1's Black Ink Crew and featured designers B. Michael, J. Cheikh, Korto Momolu, Saint Wobil and Avnah with 106 & Park's DJ Lyve on the ones and twos. Proceeds from the fashion show were donated to victims of the tragic East Harlem building collapse last month.