Harris addressed convention attendees for the first time since her historic election as vice president of the United States.
By Amy V. Simmons
Last week’s national NAACP convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey had plenty of history to celebrate on all fronts.
First, it was the first national convention held at the seaside resort and gambling mecca since June 1955, when the organization held its 46th annual gathering there.
But secondly, the gathering marked the first NAACP convention address delivered by Vice President Kamala Harris since she became America’s first woman, African American, and Asian American to hold that office.
An enthusiastic crowd gathered at the Atlantic City Convention Center on July 18 to hear from Vice President Harris during the opening plenary of the 113th National NAACP Convention — the first in-person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
During her remarks, Harris touched upon several areas of concern to the African American community. She brought greetings from President Joe Biden and highlighted several of the steps that the Biden-Harris administration have taken to address those concerns, such as the implementation of the Child Tax Credit, which lifted nearly 40% of Black children out of poverty last year alone, Harris said.
The tax cut gave working families up to $8,000 a year to give folks more room in their budgets to buy for their children food, medication, and school supplies, she said.
Harris also spoke about the final passage and signing of the historic Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act this year.
“Just last March, I stood in the Rose Garden at the White House with Ms. Michelle Duster, the great-granddaughter of a founder of the NAACP and one of our nation’s greatest journalists, Ida B. Wells and we were there to address some very unfinished business — business of this organization — which was to watch President Joe Biden sign the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act,” she said. “I was proud to introduce that act when I served in the United States Senate, along with Senator Cory Booker — New Jersey’s own — and Congressman Bobby Rush, who I think is here, but has been a great leader over the years.”
“This legislation was a result of years of determined action by civil rights organizations, including the NAACP,” Harris continued. “Even though it took a staggering 122 years to finally make lynching a federal crime, it must be said [that] even though it took that long, the NAACP was never deterred and always determined.”
Harris also touched upon an issue that she is passionate about — maternal health inequities.
Black women are three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes, Native American women are more than twice as likely to die, and women living in the nation’s rural communities are more than one and a half times more likely to die, Harris said.
Harris was proud to convene women from around the country at the White House to discuss this critical issue, she said.
“We took action then — because it can’t just be about words — to provide resources to hire and train doulas, to advance culturally competent care and to research the contributors to maternal mortality, because included in those contributors are racial bias in the healthcare delivery system; included in those contributors are the stressors that Black women face in life,” Harris said. “And we need to research and make clear and speak honestly about all of those issues, again, as a national priority.”
The administration also worked with states to expand Medicaid postpartum coverage, she said.
Additionally, the vice president discussed voting rights and gun violence, both in mass shootings and daily in African American communities.
“Mass shootings have made America a nation in mourning,” Harris said. “And it’s not only the mass shootings. We see it in our communities every day, and it is no less tragic or outrageous.
Think about it: Black people are 13% of America’s population but make up 62% of gun homicide victims. This issue of the need for reasonable gun safety laws is a real issue when we are talking about the civil right, the right that all communities should have, to live in a place that is safe without weapons of war running those streets.”
The number of guns manufactured in this country tripled over the last 20 years, and we now have more guns in our nation than people, she said. The first federal gun safety law in nearly 30 years signed by President Biden earlier the month was simply the first step.
“We must repeal the liability shield that protects gun manufacturers, and we must renew the assault weapons ban,” Harris said. “You know, an assault weapon, like many things, there’s a design — there’s a purposeful design,” Harris continued. “Well, for the assault weapon, the design is to kill a lot of human beings quickly. There is no reason for weapons of war on the streets of America.”
The decades-long struggle for voting rights is also far from over, Harris said.
“No matter how many times they push us back, we will continue to march forward,” she said. “And we will pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act.”
Harris concluded her remarks with a call to action.
“To move our nation forward, President Biden and I ask for you to do what you have always done: continue to build coalitions of Americans of all ages and races and backgrounds; continue to do so with the knowledge that we have so much more in common than what separates us; continue to activate and organize communities in every state and continue to use your power to fight for our shared vision of America,” she said.
The vice president’s general session remarks were followed by her participation in a special private reproductive rights roundtable discussion with more than 20 state legislators, local leaders, and advocates. Speakers included New Jersey’s Acting Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin,
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz, New Jersey Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Roslyn Rogers Collins, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan New Jersey and Alejandra Sorto, campaign strategist for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. All shared their own ideas and solutions-based strategies during the discussion, which was held privately.
This roundtable discussion was part of a nationwide strategy. During these meetings, concrete solutions and remedies are discussed in response to the Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down Roe v Wade. Similar meetings with state legislators and other stakeholders began earlier this month at the White House, in Orlando, Florida, and Philadelphia.
The overturning of Roe v Wade has created a national health care crisis, Harris said at the beginning of the meeting.
“When we look at this issue, every woman should be able to make decisions about their bodies and their life without government interference, and if they so choose, in consultation with their pastor, their priest, their rabbi, their family, their physician,” she said.
Harris also emphasized the importance of voting in this year’s election at all levels — local, state, and national — especially since this decision has an impact on other freedoms.
“I will also note that, here in New Jersey, there is also work that is highlighting the Venn diagram, if you will, around these issues in that we are finding that in many of the states where there is an intent and there is work being done to deprive women of their right to make decisions about their own reproductive health and their care, the same people, and in those same states, we are finding laws being passed to restrict the ability of people to vote,” she said.