Bethel New Life Center was the site of the Chicago Westside NAACP Branch’s annual membership celebration on Sunday, Oct. 19.

Joann Kern, membership committee chairperson, introduced the program. Youth President Patrick Easley reported on youth activities such as the ACT-SO program where young people compete academically.

Chairperson Vera Davis gave the keynote address, outlining the history of the NAACP. “I want to go back 100 years because we will be celebrating 100 years of the NAACP next year. I want to take you back a little bit so we know where we came from; we need to know our history. The NAACP is the oldest and most influential civil rights organization in the United States. Its mission is to ensure political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. It got its start in 1905 when a group of prominent and outspoken African-Americans met to discuss the challenges facing people of color and to come up with possible strategies and solutions. One of the issues they were concerned about was the disenfranchisement of African Americans in the South from 1890 to 1908, when southern legislators ratified a new constitution, creating barriers to voter registration and adding more complex election rules.

“Voter registration and turnout dropped tremendously as a result. Men who had voted for 30 years were told they no longer could qualify to register. Because the hotels of the USA were segregated, the men met under the leadership of Harvard scholar W.E.B. Dubois at a hotel on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. The group became known as the Niagara Movement. A year later, three whites joined the group, a journalist and two social workers.”

Davis explained how the organization used the courts to attack racial inequality. In 1910, the organization’s official name was drafted and founders included such notables as Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois. One of the organization’s early successes (in Topeka, Kan., 1954) was its victory in Brown v. Board of Education, under the leadership of Special Counsel Thurgood Marsall. The Supreme Court decision stated, “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”

President Karl A. Brinson gave an update on where the organization is now and how and what roles members can participate in. Brinson said, “We are the people who make up the NAACP. Let me give you a real quick news flash: Nov. 4th does not mean emancipation for black people. What we have is a brother who might be the first African American to become president of United States. That brother will not be able to pass one bill without the help of Congress; he won’t be able to spend a dollar without the help of Congress. That means a group of bodies have to keep the pressure on those electoral bodies. That is where we are relevant. One thing we can’t do is elect a brother and leave him. It’s about attitude, it’s about action.

“Our attitude is we have a Messiah-somebody is going to lead us, somebody is going somewhere we think we don’t need to go. We have to get rid of that attitude and put some action behind what we are going to do. When this brother takes the inauguration in January, we have to be there fighting for that same thing we fought for 100 years ago, and that is equality for all. We collectively have to be there, we have to work at it, and we have to be together. And we are not going to agree with each other; we are not all going to be on the same page. We can’t sit on our laurels just because we have a brother nominated; we have to be actively involved.

“If you look at it, this does not make sense that we still are still fighting for equality a 100 years later. We should not be gathered here as NAACP fighting for equality; we should just be gathered here celebrating how great this country is. But we’re still here, still fighting, still dreaming. It is not about individuals, it is not about a man, it is about us coming together collectively to bring equality for all.”

Musical selections were provided by Terri Carter and her blues band.