The 114th NAACP National Convention took over Boston last weekend (July 28 – August 1) with the inspiring theme of “Thriving Together.” 

Every year the NAACP National Convention brings the Black community together for an empowering and immersive experience celebrating the community’s collective power. The Convention attracts innovative change-makers, thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, scholars, entertainers, influencers, and creatives to network and exchange ideas.

The weekend consisted of various events such as main-stage discussions, luncheons, and the experience hall to connect activists, allies, and entrepreneurs from varying backgrounds.

The NAACP Youth & College Division held a weekend of exciting events that HBCU Buzz got to attend. These events include the Act-So & Youth & College Joint Event Gen Z Culture Talk, the Youth & College Welcome Session, the Roy Wilkins Youth Luncheon, and the Youth & College Public Mass Meeting. 

The Act-So, Youth & College Joint Event Gen Z Culture Talk took place on Friday, July 28, and brought together youth activists and organizers for an engaging and thought-provoking speaker series. 

The Gen Z Culture Talk included three separate workshop conversations — a STEAM conversation focused on opportunities and journey, and two intimate panel-style discussions that were focused and curated out of the idea of a barbershop and salon. 

Jimel Calliste, Field Organizer of NAACP Youth & College Division kicked off the event, taking to the stage to introduce the Gen Z Culture Talk and encouraging the audience to take notes. He was then followed by the President and CEO of NAACP, Derrick Johnson who spoke about the goal of the organization’s programs, Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO), and the Youth & College Division.  “The goal is to expose you to as many creative thinkers as possible, and the reason why is because we define culture,” he said. Johnson challenged the audience to define culture for themselves and determine what they’re going to do with it.

President and CEO of NAACP, Derrick Johnson at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Gen Z Culture Talk.

After Johnson, NAACP Board of Trustees, Zephani Smith Eisenstat took the stage to moderate the STEAM conversation and introduce speakers, Naia Butler-Craig, an Aerospace Engineering Ph.D. Student at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and Jaylen Brown, professional basketball player for the Boston Celtics.

From left, Jaylen Brown, Naia Butler-Craig, and Zephani Smith Eisenstat at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Gen Z Culture Talk.

Region 4 National Youth Works Committee (NYWC) Board Member, Alexia Dukes concluded the panel, emphasizing the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion in STEM. “Diversity in STEM not only enriches our field with a wide range of perspectives but also opens up the floodgates of creativity and innovation,” she said. “We must actively strive to break down barriers that have historically excluded underrepresented groups from participating in STEM.” 

The second panel, titled “Building Beautiful Futures” was presented by hair care brand, Dark & Lovely and was moderated by philanthropy ambassador, Nicole Wade. The panel consisted of speakers, Jessica L. Brown, founder of College Gurl, Shevann Steuben, Region 6 National Youth Board Member, and Channing Hill, Region 7 NYWC Youth Representative. During the personable conversation, they spoke about the importance of mentorship, making bold moves, and self-love and acceptance. 

From left, Channing Hill, Jessica L. Brown, Shevann Steuben, and Nicole Wade at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Gen Z Culture Talk.

The final panel was moderated by Ryan Hardgraves, CEO of Goodlyfe Grooming LLC. who started off the conversation by talking about the importance of leadership, being authentic, and developing meaningful relationships. The panelists, social media influencer and content creator,  Laron Hines, actor and entrepreneur, Brett Gray, and Region 3 NYWC Youth Representative, Carey Walls added to the conversation, speaking on the topics of identity, boundaries, and relationships.

From left, Carey Walls, Brett Gray, Laron Hines, and Ryan Hardgraves at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Gen Z Culture Talk.

The National Director of the NAACP Youth & College Division, Wisdom Cole closed out the event by asking the audience what they learned, to which they responded, “Be your authentic self,” “Be bold”  and “We thrive better together.”

“I think it’s very important for us to understand that when Gen Z speaks America has to listen,” Cole told HBCU Buzz. “There are so many key issues that are impacting us in today’s society and Gen Z’s on the forefront about speaking about it but also acting on it, and so this convention is all about making sure they have all of the tools and tactics necessary to take on some of the most challenging problems in America today. Everything from student debt to gun violence, to police accountability—we have to make sure that we are ready for the fight, not just for today but for the next fifty years. It’s not enough for us to survive, we have to thrive.” 

On Saturday, July 28, the Youth & College Welcome Session kicked off the National Convention weekend with opportunities to connect with other NAACP Youth & College leaders from across the country.  

The attendees gathered in the convention room, many dressed in attire that represented their respective NAACP regional districts. They got to hear from several speakers, such as Spelman College Alumna and NAACP Youth & College Training and Programs Manager, Amari Fennoy, Terayle Hill, Clark Atlanta University Alum and Actor and Host for the week, and NAACP Youth & College Division National Director, Wisdom Cole. They kept the energy high as they discussed the importance of this year’s theme “Thriving Together” and partook in the obligatory “swag surf,” a staple in the black community. The energy continued into the night at the Y2K-themed Youth & College Welcome Party later that night.

The next day on Sunday, July 30, the Roy Wilkins Youth Luncheon was held. This was an interactive lunch and learn session between young elected officials and the youth about what holding power looks like for a young leader and what mentorship looks like for young officials. Luncheon panelists included New Bedford City Councilmen Shane A. Burgo, Mayor of Earle, Arkansas and the youngest Black mayor in U.S. history, Mayor Jaylen Smith,  West Mesa Justice of the Peace, Judge Elaissia Sears, and a virtual address from the U.S. Representative from Florida’s 10th Congressional District, Congressman Maxwell Frost.

Sunday was closed out with the packed-out General Public Mass Meeting, hosted by actors Adrian Holmes and Essence Atkins.

Actors Adrian Holmes (left) and Essence Atkins at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s General Public Mass Meeting.

Attendees heard from influential speakers Derrick Lewis, Field Manager of the NAACP Youth & College Division, and NAACP President & CEO Derrick Johnson ahead of the panel discussion. Journalist and Howard University alumna, Nayo Campbell served as the moderator for the panel discussing Afro-futurism. The panelists were: Representative for Tennessee’s House District 52, Representative Justin Jones, influencer, George “Conscious” Lee,  Gen Z historian, Khalil Greene, and activist, Anya Dillard

Dillard shared that she hoped the audience gathered from the panel to be “forever unapologetic and to be loud about the causes they feel passionate about and to be confident enough to spark discourse and to have conversations.” 

The last event that HBCU Buzz attended was the Juanita Mitchell Gala on Monday, July 31. 

This year’s gala theme was The Black Met Gala: All Shades of Blackness. All decked out in upscale attire, attendees packed out the BCEC ballroom as Youth & College units, outstanding member leaders, and advisors were honored. 

Honorees at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Juanita Mitchell Gala.
Attendees at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Juanita Mitchell Gala.
HBCU Buzz CEO & Founder Luke Lawal delivering the opening remarks at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Juanita Mitchell Gala.

HBCU Buzz’s very own founder and CEO, Luke Lawal delivered the opening remarks at the gala. Other speakers included: NAACP Chairman of National Board of Directors, Leon Russell, actor, Teryale Hill, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, who served as the keynote speaker. The evening also consisted of a fashion show, a presentation of awards, and a special performance by actor and musician Brett Gray at the gala after-party. 

Actor and singer Brett Gray performing at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Juanita Mitchell Gala afterparty.
Fashion show participants at the 114th NAACP National Convention’s Juanita Mitchell Gala.

The 114th NAACP National Convention was a weekend of fun, fellowship, and thriving together. “All these tools that we put in our tool belt to allow us not just to survive, but to truly thrive and that’s what this year’s convention is all about—ensuring that you have the tools to take back your community to ensure that we have local victories that inform the national narratives,” said Wisdom Cole. To become a member of the NAACP, click here.