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NAACP Convention Draws To Close

July 17, 1998

ATLANTA (AP) _ Before the start of his first NAACP convention as national board chairman, Julian Bond said he hoped to help trim the agenda of the civil rights group to better focus on core issues.

But with the multitude of issues clamoring for attention in black America _ health disparities with whites, the plight of black farmers, poor urban education, threats to affirmative action and voter apathy _ Bond learned the civil rights group’s agenda will not be getting any shorter.

``Shrinking the agenda isn’t as easy as it sounds,″ Bond said as the group’s 89th annual convention drew to a close Thursday with a rousing address by Vice President Al Gore.

Saying ``America needs the NAACP more than ever,″ an animated Gore brought a flag-waving audience of 3,000 to its feet several times with a defense of the association’s traditional civil rights mission.

``You are at the vanguard of our most critical battles,″ Gore said.

Aside from learning how difficult it will be to trim the group’s list of priorities, Bond said he also discovered how difficult it is to be the speaker everyone seeks and the person everyone wanted to talk to during the six-day convention that drew more than 10,000 NAACP members.

``When I came in past years as a board member, I would go to my events and that was it. Now as board chair, I’ve leaned you have to be everywhere,″ Bond said. For example, Bond had three separate dinners and two post-dinner events to attend Wednesday night alone.

``I didn’t know just how big and broad we are,″ Bond said.

It seems the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is in as good a shape for the battles ahead as it has been in years, members said.

``Four years ago, all we were hearing about was who was fighting who. But it looks like we’ve put that all behind us,″ said Ronald Flamer, a retired city worker from Baltimore. ``Now all we are talking about is issues. We’re finally getting it together and civil rights are back.″

Kweisi Mfume, who as NAACP president heads day-to-day operations for the group, said, ``I’ve seen more energy here than I have in a long time. To me, it says we are unifying because the squabbling is pretty much absent this year.″

Squabbling, lawsuits and bad blood had become a way of life for the NAACP just a few years ago.

With a $4 million debt and top officials charged with ethical and moral misdeeds, some social activists once feared the NAACP could become the Soviet Union of civil rights _ a vast collection of local branches with no central authority or leadership.

But for members like Eva Shankin of LaFourche Parrish in Louisiana, the ``bad days″ of the NAACP seem like centuries ago. ``Now we are back to the issues and I’m happy about it,″ she said.

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