NAACP National Convention attendees socialize outside of the entrance to the NAACP Experience hall.
NAACP national convention attendees socialize outside of the entrance to the NAACP Experience exhibition hall. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The 109th national convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) opened Saturday with organizers sounding the theme of using voter turnout to combat bigotry.

“We are here in San Antonio to tell the nation it’s time to defeat hate,” said NAACP Board Chairman Leon Russell. “We have seen hate across the nation in places we never thought it’d come from, in the highest offices in the land. We have seen incivility, inability of our leaders to talk civilly. We can agree to disagree, but we can agree that our disagreement should not separate us.”

Russell said because of a resurgence of white supremacy, nationalism, and xenophobia in recent months, communities of color are often cast by some people as “the other” in American society.

“From this podium, from the speakers who come through this convention hall this week, we’ll tell you we’ve got to defeat hate,” Russell said. “We’ve got to get out and vote.”

NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said it’s crucial that people understand the importance of registering to vote and then casting a ballot, especially in this fall’s midterm elections.

“This year’s theme of ‘Defeat Hate – Vote’ was selected because we understand that elections have consequences,” he said. “The consequence of the 2016 election convinced some individuals to pursue a course of action to divide this nation by stoking the flames of fear.

“Voting is the currency in any democracy. So we must turn out the vote in ways in which this would be a presidential-level activity. Because if we don’t, our future is at stake.”

NACCP leaders said they are happy that this year’s national convention could be held in San Antonio during the local NAACP branch’s 100th anniversary and during the City’s Tricentennial.

Michael Turner, the convention chair, was among the national NAACP officials who hailed such local leaders as former Mayor Ivy Taylor, NAACP San Antonio President Oliver Hill, and Oliver’s late wife, Minnie Mabry Hill, who died in May at age 74.

Oliver Hill said it’s disappointing Minnie did not get to see the fruits of her labor.

“[Minnie] worked hard in making sure this convention came to San Antonio,” he said. “Everything I’m doing now is in her honor.”

Taylor expressed gratitude that, while mayor, she got to oversee expansion of the Henry B. González Convention Center, helping draw the NAACP national convention to San Antonio. She urged out-of-town attendees to explore San Antonio, especially the East Side, “and experience some of the cultural offerings we have over here even as you contemplate the work that lies ahead.”

Mayor Ron Nirenberg commended the Hills and Taylor for their work in helping to get this year’s NAACP convention to San Antonio. He said the organization has much to do in helping to preserve civil and voting rights.

“The NAACP has played a crucial role in the fight for equal rights and to end racial discrimination in schools, employment and so much more,” Nirenberg said. “That fight is important to all San Antonians. In fact, it’s important to all Americans, and we all know that struggle is still underway.”

Ivy Taylor, City of San Antonio former mayor, sits on the #blackvotesmatter panel discussion.
Former San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor sits on a panel Saturday at the NAACP national convention. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Following the news conference, the Rivard Report briefly caught up with Taylor, who has stayed out of the spotlight since losing the 2017 mayoral runoff election to Nirenberg.

“I’ve been minding my business,” Taylor joked.

The former mayor said her focus lately has been on family matters. Taylor said when she first began working with the City, her daughter Morgan was age 5. Now she’s about to start high school.

Taylor, meanwhile, has enrolled into the University of Pennsylvania’s doctorate program in higher education.

But concentrating on the now, Taylor recalled the tough competition that San Antonio had in trying to land the NAACP convention.

“We had to make the strong pitch that San Antonio was a unique place with a unique history, and that, from a business perspective, we could put on a great convention,” she said. “I’m just glad to see Minnie’s dream come true.”

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.