Merlene Davis: Lexington's hosting of state NAACP convention is a time to get reinvigorated

The 64th annual NAACP Kentucky State Conference is being held in Lexington this year, but I didn't understand why until I spoke with convention organizers.

Whenever I've heard the NAACP mentioned in recent years, it has always been because of actions taken in Louisville, at the state level, or on the national front. I just don't hear much about the workings of the local chapter.

Two years ago, on the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, I spoke with Flora Mitchell, president of the Lexington chapter, who said many of the 75 members were growing older and that most of the complaints that they fielded were referred to other agencies.

What was needed at the local and national levels was an infusion of new and younger blood.

JoJuana Leavell-Greene and the Rev. Jim Thurman, co-chairs of the convention, said state NAACP president William Cofield suggested Lexington host the state convention in order to do just that.

"Cofield is trying to stir up the waters," Leavell-Greene said. "We're trying to put new blood with the old blood. They were there for us when our parents and grandparents were struggling. We benefited from that."

Bringing the convention to Lexington for the first time since 2004 will "give us a chance to reinvigorate the members we have and bring in more," Thurman said.

Lexington plays a vital role because of its proximity to surrounding counties that may not have chapters, he said. People in those counties that experience disparities or discrimination should have a chapter in Lexington as a source of help.

"We don't know what the depressed economy will bring," Thurman said, adding that there needs to be a safety net for those not living in the higher economic echelons.

"We need to get an active base re-established," he said. "We are looking for grassroots volunteers to let people know we are still here."

First, though, members need to familiarize themselves with the national mission, Leavell-Greene said.

"We can read it," she said, "but until I can tie that mission to me, it is just a statement. We need to understand what we have learned and how to apply it today."

The theme of this year's convention is "One Nation, One Dream ... Helping the Least, the Last and the Lost," which is a nod to the organization's beginnings as an advocacy group as well as the current economic conditions.

The conference agenda includes luncheons, panel discussions and workshops.

The annual Freedom Fund and Award Banquet Gala, featuring Kentucky native Boyce Watkins, a financial expert, author and social commentator, will be held at the University of Kentucky Student Center Ballroom at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Many of the events are open to the public. It will be a chance for us to see how relevant the NAACP still is and how to become a member and make it even better.