In the wake of a bloody, violent week fueled by racial tensions that are spreading nationwide, Cincinnati is preparing to host what could be a historical civil rights meeting.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization - is expected to bring 10,000 attendees to Cincinnati for its annual convention from July 16 to 20.
The convention usually draws national attention and widespread media coverage, especially in a presidential election year.
But this year, it could be historic.
“When our delegates arrive in Cincinnati, they will have on their minds the latest criminal justice tragedy of the moment,” said NAACP president and CEO Cornell William Brooks. “People need not mistake anger and sadness for lack of resolve.”
Brooks spoke to WCPO on Thursday after a wrenching week that left two black men dead at the hands of police officers – one in Minnesota and the other in Baton Rouge, La. Cell phone videos of the shootings were shared widely on social media.
“We cannot have day after day of these videos,” Brooks said. “There is a coarsening of consciousness to have children exposed to that.”
At the time of the interview, Brooks did not know that more tragedy would follow.
On Thursday night in Dallas, gunfire broke out at a demonstration and snipers shot at police officers, killing five of them. One of the suspects told a hostage negotiator he wanted to kill white people, especially cops.
Brooks condemned the ambush on national airwaves and on Twitter.
“I think the circumstances highlight the need for urgency,” Brooks said on Thursday afternoon. “We’re coming to Cincinnati to move to action, not for a speaking session.”
The theme of the convention highlights the group’s top priorities: “Our lives matter, our votes count.”
Cincinnati will be the staging ground for a massive voter mobilization drive, he said.
“We’re connecting protestors and demonstrators in the streets to voter mobilization at the polls,” he said. “If you are an activist and are outraged, you are a prospective voter empowered.”
The convention will also likely attract high-profile visitors.
The NAACP has invited both presumptive presidential candidates — Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — as well as President Barack Obama to speak in Cincinnati. Experts predict that all three will attend, as well as possibly first lady Michelle Obama.
“The path to White House begins in Cincinnati,” Brooks said.
When the Queen City last hosted the NAACP convention in 2008 both candidates — John McCain and Barack Obama — gave speeches.
When McCain spoke he was given a tepid, but respectful audience by a largely pro-Obama crowd. At the end of his speech, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
“Our rank and file members have seen members from both parties come before us year after year,” Brooks said. “If you don’t come and stand flatfooted and address the rank and file NAACP … the people can only assume that our agenda is not important to you.”