“In the political climate that we’re in now, it is imperative that we become steadfast and immovable,” said Robin Wakefield, NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet chairperson. “We don’t know what’s coming down the pipeline. But, we know that we need to be watching, because there are a lot of things that are going to affect us tremendously. So, we (have to be) steadfast and immovable more so now than any time in modern history.”

Where are we now?

That was the question attendees were charged with answering at the Dr. Jerry D. Jewell Freedom Fund Banquet on Friday. Guests gathered at the Pine Bluff Convention Center to hear keynote speaker Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, as a part of the 72nd Annual Arkansas State Convention for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

“Today, we find ourselves immersed in the same debate,” Chesterfield said. “The same debate over equal opportunity, the same debate over educational excellence, the same debate over the haves versus the have nots, the same debate over treating black kids walking in the street differently than you would white kids. It’s a debate about the difference between the way you treated Michael Brown and the way you treated Dylann Roof… that’s where we are now.”

Chesterfield said that the issues faced by people decades ago are the same battles men, women and children are experiencing today.

“… Improvement of educational facilities, the integration of public facilities, and the right of free men to walk, talk and be with whomever they wish to be with--- we’re still fighting for that today,” said Chesterfield. “This is 2017 and that was in 1905 and we’re still fighting the same fight.”

The convention, which usually takes place in Little Rock, was hosted in Pine Bluff Friday and Saturday. The two-day event had more than 70 registrants, which officials expected to increase with on-site registration available on Saturday. Ivan Whitfield, president of The Pine Bluff Branch of the NAACP, said the event was a boost for the community.

“I think it’s a vote of great confidence that the state convention came to Pine Bluff,” said Whitfield, who also serves as the Pine Bluff Police Department police chief. “The hotel rooms that they reserve tonight will be a blessing to the city, because it will increase the tax revenue. So, it’s great. I’m very happy. They could’ve went anywhere in the state of Arkansas. But, they came to Pine Bluff. “

With the theme of “Steadfast and Immovable," sessions over the two-day period focused on shaping and guiding not only the state, but also local branches of the NAACP in continuing the fight for civil rights.

“In the political climate that we’re in now, it is imperative that we become steadfast and immovable,” said Robin Wakefield, NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet chairperson. “We don’t know what’s coming down the pipeline. But, we know that we need to be watching, because there are a lot of things that are going to affect us tremendously. So, we (have to be) steadfast and immovable more so now than any time in modern history.”

Additionally, workshops discussed health, politics, education, disability, new membership and other tips for members to share with their local organizations. According to Arkansas NAACP President Rizelle Aaron, education is one of the organizations biggest focuses as it relates to charter schools.

“Our priorities right now are education in reference to charter schools and making sure that they don’t take away more of our higher level learning students from the public schools to make sure we have an equal chance for educational opportunities,” Aaron said. “Politics is also major. We want to make sure we have qualified African-Americans and Hispanics that are qualified to run for office and support them to get elected to office.”

Despite Chesterfield pointing out similar instances of what she described as current-day injustices, she urged that it was crucial for citizens to continue the fight for equality across the board. And with the help of the NAACP, she believes the needle of improvement will continue to move.

“I’m wondering where we are now,” Chesterfield said. “But, as I look around, I’m worried about it. But, I’m also very hopeful, because more of us care and more of us are being involved.”