NAACP adds 21st-century issues to mix

KANSAS CITY, Mo. —As the NAACP gathers in Kansas City for its national convention starting today, members will confront a to-do list that's depressingly familiar — and disturbingly new.

Longtime concerns such as access to a quality education, legal reform and civil justice now jostle for attention with a health and childhood obesity crisis, soaring urban home foreclosures, even climate change and immigration reform.

The challenges of the 20th century, it seems, have collided with the problems of the 21st.

"In order to get our country back up to the top of the hill and re-establish our country as a beacon for... investment in people, we have to address each of those issues," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, the NAACP's president.

The weeklong agenda for the group's meeting reflects attention to that new phase, which coincides with the group's second century in existence. First lady Michelle Obama will bring her childhood nutrition campaign to the convention on Monday, while sessions on charter schools, lending practices and even veterans' concerns are planned.

But leaders inside and outside the NAACP said they expect a primary focus on work and economic opportunity for the African-American population, which remains particularly battered by the recession.

But addressing all of those challenges at once can be difficult, some leaders said, in an environment where the idea of helping minority communities is under economic, social and political pressure.

Jealous said his group is up to the task, something it will show Kansas City — and the world — in the coming week.

"We were founded 100 years ago on Lincoln's birthday to resurrect his dream of one nation," he said. "We have pursued a path for 101 years that has given all Americans... a better path to that dream."