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Leading the Way: NAACP Summit Prepares Game Changers for Battle

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For many Americans, the euphoria of an Inauguration Day that changed the course of U.S. presidential history withered under the glare of economic realities. The hope for greater change gave way to struggles for survival as foreclosures, bankruptcies and unemployment rocked the nation.

In "Foreclosed: The State of the Dream 2008",  mortgage lenders are blamed for costing people of color more than $200 billion dollars by selling them on subprime loans. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is holding them accountable.

"We have called them to task and they are now going back to these same communities that have been so disproportionately impacted, and working to help them get on stronger financial footing," said Roslyn Brock, chairman of the NAACP's National Board of Directors.

Economic empowerment is one of the game changer topics tackled at the 8th Annual Leadership 500 Summit in Destin, Florida, May 24-27. The executive director of the NAACP's new Financial Freedom Center co-authored the 2008 report and is one of the experts educating attendees on strategies for creating, sustaining and sharing wealth. 

"Dedrick Mohammed, one of the leaders of our economic development department, just gave a presentation around the difference between wealth and income," said Brock. "In the last four years, African Americans lost 53 percent of their economic wealth.
In July, the Pew Research Center reported that the housing market collapse and recession hit minorities much harder. The 53% drop in median wealth for black households compared to only a 16 percent decline for whites. Hispanic households lost 66% of their median wealth.

The NAACP is sponsoring strategy sessions at the summit to prepare more leaders to join the battle for economic equity and equality rights on every front.

"The individuals we have identified as leaders for the 8th Annual Leadership 500 Summit are game changers. They are the ones who have the courage to step into the public square and lead change in a particular area," Brock said.

The way the Chairman Brock sees it, the summit is about much more than attendees listening to experts on target issues.

"Not only are we giving them information, we are giving them a charge. We are giving them something to do," explained Brock. "We want them to be proactive not reactive in responding to the civil rights challenges of the day."

That means after leaving strategy sessions on economic empowerment, health, education, criminal justice, civic participation and environmental justice, the Summit participates have a mission: go back to their communities and become game changers.
"If there is a will, the NAACP can find a way to get you connected, involved and ready to make a difference," added Brock.

The nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization has more than half a million members across the U.S. and abroad. Brock is confident about the NAACP's ability to support people who are ready to lead the charge for change in their communities. In her view, listening to what matters to the Summit attendees is equally important.

"We want to really touch the pulse of the 21st century leaders in our nation. We are giving voice and vision to what they say in our strategy sessions."

That requires the organization to step up on issues confronting new generations of Americans while continuing the fight for civil rights on traditional fronts. The NAACP's recent endorsement of marriage equality is an example. Brock acknowledged the organization's stand on gay marriage as possibly controversial. It is also reflects the organization's belief in America's founding principle of equal protection under the law.

"We are not afraid to stand in that space and call our nation and ourselves to task, to be true to those basic tenets of our society because we believe courage cannot skip this generation," said Brock.

Nor can this or future generations abandon the fight for equity and justice for all Americans -- no matter how long the fight. NAACP President Ben Jealous made that point in the opening session of the Leadership 500 Summit.

"He said to the attendees that people ask the question, 'How long will you be working on these issues? How long will you be working on health care? How long will you be working on education or criminal justice?' And his response was, 'As long as it takes,'" Brock recounted.

Issues surrounding the Trayvon Martin killing in Florida and the challenges confronting African American men today are on the agenda for the Summit's town hall meeting. When the conference ends, Brock expects the legacy of the NAACP to be strengthened by a cadre of reenergized leaders going home to do battle in an election year.

"I think that we will continue to do what we have always done, which is to mobilize, to agitate, to educate and to create an informed populace, so that every American feels that they have a right and a privilege to go to the voting box and to be a good civic participant," said Brock.

Check out the Leadership 500 Summit website for more information about the strategy sessions, town hall meeting and 2012 honorees.


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