Remarks by ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt to the 109th NAACP Annual Convention

Remarks, as delivered, to the NAACP Annual Convention in San Antonio, Texas
  • July 16, 2018

Remarks as delivered

Thank you, Gary, and good morning, NAACP! It is so great for me to be here with you today. 

You know, two months ago, my friend –  and your President and CEO –  Derrick Johnson, addressed the Anti-Defamation League at our National Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. in a room a lot like this. And in a speech no one on our side will soon forget, Derrick urged us to see how our fears can propel us forward in the fight against hate rather than hold us back. He challenged us to use civility as a tool to combat bigotry and racism. And Derrick reminded us that more than ever, the Jewish and the African-American communities need to lock arms and stand together against those who would harm us both.

Derrick brought all my people to their feet

And I got to admit, that is a tough act to follow.

So, today, I’ll confess that I might not deliver the same kind of fiery speech that Derrick did. But I will deliver the same message. 

You see, the ADL and the NAACP are both organizations that are more than a century-old. We are institutions in this country who have been there for the tough times, for the difficult moments. And again, we’ve stood together.

We have fought for equal rights and dignity under the law. No matter how you pray or the color of your skin.

That meant working together in courtrooms, or appealing to Congress, or marching in the streets…together. In fact, in my office in New York – right outside my desk – is a picture of my predecessor – the man who had my job, Ben Epstein – standing in solidarity with Dr. King, with Robert Kennedy, and with NAACP’s Roy Wilkins right in the Rose Garden of the White House. And a time when the White House remembered to call out hate, the ADL stood there – Ben stood there – with Roy after the violence in Birmingham in May of 1963. 

You see ADL’s founders set our mission as quote, stopping the defamation of the Jewish people and securing justice and fair treatment to all. They set out on this mission in 1913 when a Jewish man was lynched outside of Atlanta. We believed then, as we do today, that a minority can never be safe, and equal, and free in this country until all minorities are safe.

That is why ADL stood with the NAACP during the struggles of the civil rights era and why we continue to do so today.

We were privileged to work with you for more than a decade to pass the federal hate crimes law in 2009 that bears the name of James Byrd who was murdered and lynched right here in Texas. And two years ago, we launched the 50 States Against Hate Campaign designed to improve the response of every state and every city in this country to hate violence. 

Because together, we have fought back against efforts to reduce access to the polls and restrict voting rights. We have worked together on anti-lynching laws, school desegregation, lobbied for criminal justice reform, pushed for changes in sentencing guidelines and we will keep up the fight.

And while we work at a national level, we are continuing on the ground in communities across the country. Not only to fight racism, but to promote inclusion and tolerance. And I’m glad, I am proud, I am grateful that we are doing it together.

Let me give you one example.

Last spring in Massachusetts, a charter school had a policy that prohibited girls from wearing hair extensions in braids – a policy that clearly was targeted at young black girls. When twin 15-year-old girls Deanna and Mya Cook were singled out and punished, their family called both the NAACP and the ADL to help. And what resulted, what happened, was an amazing display of advocacy and coalition work – again, together. We launched a petition, we protested together, we encouraged investigations, we elevated the voices of those black girls, provided educational resources, and together helped change and stop that policy of discrimination.

Now some might say that it’s a small victory. Some might suggest that it really doesn’t matter how girls wear their hair.

But I say no.

It’s one that, God-willing, can show what happens when you change hearts and minds from one town, to one city, to one county, to one state, to across the country.  

But I will acknowledge that sometimes the fights are harder and the stakes are higher.

Just over three years ago, we mourned when a white supremacist gunned down nine black church-goers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Our hearts broke when these lives were taken in a place of worship.

And, in just a few weeks, it will be the first anniversary of a white supremacist, neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia. And what happened that day reminded us that no matter what they say – and regardless of those who tried to divide us – that we are living in a moment when those in our country  –  who hate blacks, who hate Jews, who hate Latinos, who hate the LGBT and anyone different from them – they feel emboldened. They feel empowered.

And who are these people?

They venerate slaveholders. 

They champion the confederacy.

They imitate Nazis. 

They seek an America that is radically different than the one that Roy and Ben, than the one that Derrick and I, than the one that the ADL and the NAACP, have been fighting for, for so many years.

And that is why our work is not yet done.  In the weeks and months to come, ADL and the NAACP must renew and re-energize our long-standing civil rights partnership. We must stand firm for our values and our convictions, because they’re not yours and mine. They are American values and convictions. No matter what you hear from those at the highest levels.

And together we can oppose every form of bigotry and prejudice.  

Together we can track and expose the hate groups that threaten our churches and our synagogues, our communities, and our families.

We must keep up the fight in the courts and in Congress for laws that are just. We must fight against the voter suppression and promote voter participation. We must fight for the judges that are just and for a Supreme Court that protects the Constitutional rights of every American. And, beyond the law – get past the policy – we must fight for a society where young people of color will not be suspects simply because they are studying in a dorm, or using a coupon in a store, or driving through a neighborhood, or sitting down in a Starbucks.

And so as Derrick so ably put it when he humbled us all. We must put aside our fears – even our differences – and muster the courage and conviction to fight for the America of equality and justice that we all love and treasure

And I know – I believe – we can do that together.

I know the NAACP will do that. I know the ADL will do that. And I know together we are stronger and can push this country forward.

And, you know, that’s because the man who you so ably asked to be your nineteenth president and CEO – the man I am proud to call my friend, and the man who is our partner in the good fight – Derrick Johnson, is your leader.

So thank you NAACP for the gift of your friendship. We are grateful to be your partners and we look forward to fighting the good fight with you for next 100 years.

Thank you very much.