NAACP to open Northeast regional convention in Pittsburgh

Chris Togneri
| Wednesday, April 24, 2013, 11:51 p.m.

The NAACP, fighting more subtle forms of racism than the blatant inequality and human rights violations of decades past, opens a regional convention in Pittsburgh on Thursday that will enable its officials to rethink the way they deliver their message to get people involved.

“Racism used to be so potent — there were public lynchings, people getting dogs sicced on them, segregation. It was easy for a middle-aged African American woman or a compassionate white person to see it and to be angry and want to fight it,” said Marvin Bing, the NAACP's Northeast regional director.

“Now we're fighting a more sophisticated form of racism. It's cloaked in a different way. Now we have to go out and educate people about what's going on.”

Organizers expect hundreds of people, including national officials with the organization, to attend the workshops and forums at the Westin Convention Center Hotel, Downtown, through Saturday.

Discussion topics include ending the war on drugs, diversifying the labor force, and the NAACP's cooperation with the black church and women to affect change.

Though not on the official agenda, members will talk about how to more effectively engage people in the fight against inequality, Bing said.

“We can't assume or think people know the issues. We have to go to their doors and talk to people, educate them,” he said.

Reaching out to young people is crucial, said Pat Arneson, associate professor of communication and rhetorical studies at Duquesne University who has studied the formation of the NAACP.

Many young people think the organization fights strictly for black people, Arneson said. In fact, the group battles injustice of all kind.

“Their name has historically been associated with advancing marginalized groups that can be identified by skin color,” Arneson said. “But the NAACP is for equality of rights of all people. What it stands for is still the same, but now the outreach has to change and the way the message is communicated has to change.”

NAACP Pittsburgh Unit president Connie Parker agreed: “We have a tendency of not listening to younger generations — some of us old fools think we know everything. But they could give us the answers.”

Many social problems start in the black community, Parker said, citing poor education opportunities and high unemployment and incarceration rates.

Yet she looks at troubling events elsewhere — from the Newtown, Conn., shootings to the Boston Marathon bombings — and wonders why America seems intent on destroying itself.

“You can chop a tree down, but if you don't get the roots out, things grow on top of that,” Parker said. “Things like hatred and racism, if we can get that uprooted a little bit more then all of us can move forward. ... To destroy ourselves doesn't make any sense.”

The NAACP's Region II covers Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. It selected Pittsburgh to host the convention for several reasons, officials said, including the city's significant black history and minority population.

The Census Bureau's 2011 American Community Survey found 65.5 percent of Pittsburgh's 307,484 residents said they are white, putting the minority population at 34.5 percent. Twenty-eight percent of those surveyed consider themselves black.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632 or

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