It has been seven decades since Atlantic City, New Jersey hosted the annual NAACP convention. But the event returns to the Jersey Shore destination Thursday.
It will be the first time since the onset of the pandemic that the event will be held in person, and one of the first major events to take place as Atlantic City continues its comeback.
Kaleem Shabazz, the president of the local NAACP chapter, said that he was feeling a combination of “pride, daunting stress, challenges, and invigorated.”
“It’s a big undertaking,” he said. “I’m happy to report that we’ve had a lot of help.”
The event at the Atlantic City Convention Center also comes at a time when voting rights have been restricted in many states, several high-profile fatal police shootings of Black people have occurred — including that of George Floyd and, recently, Jayland Walker — and the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade has triggered state laws banning abortion.
The theme for the conference this year: “This is Power.”
“[The theme] indicates that we have to come together to manifest the power we have,” Shabazz said. “Power means ability to do things and the ability to affect change and that’s what we have to concentrate and focus on.”
Convention delegates will focus on several issues important to the African American community, like relationships with law enforcement, economic disparities, student debt, abortion rights, and voting rights.
“We’re hopeful, but at the same time, we are cognizant of the tremendous struggle that we have as some people try to push back the rights that we gained,” said Shabazz, who is also an Atlantic City councilman.
More than 90 events will be part of the convention, which runs through July 20. That includes U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn receiving the organization’s highest honor, The Spingarn Medal, for his work advocating for voting rights “and protect[ing] our democracy.”
The convention will also pay homage to Chicken Bone Beach, the unofficial Black section of the beach created in 1900 by hotel owners to appeal to guests from the “Jim Crow” south (despite Atlantic City beaches being shared by Black and white people since the city’s founding).
Several community outreach events will also take place, including a discussion on law enforcement and interaction with communities of color on Friday featuring Acting New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin.
Atlantic City landed the convention after a collaborative effort between city and state officials that began in 2019. The state provided a $2 million grant to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to support costs associated with the convention. That’s on top of the $1.2 million the agency fronted on its own. Meet AC, the city’s convention and visitor’s bureau, made a sizzle video to appeal to organizers.
Much is at stake for Atlantic City as it continues to recover from the pandemic, according to Jane Bokunewicz, director of Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute of Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism. The convention is expected to have a $9.3 million economic impact on the city, which will be in the national spotlight as a conference destination, she added.
“Atlantic City [will be] on the national stage as a conference destination,” said Bokunewicz. “If all goes smoothly, I think it’s going to really help to build the reputation of Atlantic City as a good choice for conferences and conventions.”
Bokunewicz says that organizers choosing Atlantic City shows it is confident “the city can provide a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone.”