MARIETTA — After a raucous choral rendition of “We Shall Overcome,” Dr. Dwight “Ike” Reighard told the crowd in Zion Baptist Church’s cavernous sanctuary of growing up poor in downtown Atlanta.
“That’s the area that I grew up in,” the president of homeless shelter MUST Ministries said. “That’s the area that shaped me. That’s the place that I learned so much about life. I’m fortunate that growing up there in the 1950s and ’60s, I lived in an integrated neighborhood.
“And I think it’s probably what shaped my worldview as much as anything ever really has.”
Jeriene Grimes, the president of the Cobb NAACP, said she chose Reighard to kick off the 77th annual convention of the Georgia NAACP because of his message of unity.
“With the current climate of the world and a lot of discord and hatred,” Grimes said, her goal was to send delegates back to their local chapters “empowered and fired up.”
The convention is a four-day affair that has drawn NAACP delegates from all across the state. The theme this year is, “When we fight, we win.” When asked what the fight was in this day and age, Grimes said it’s the same as ever: for civil rights.
It is the third time Cobb County has hosted the convention.
Several people took to the podium before Reighard on Thursday night, and some lauded the strides made in advancing the rights of African Americans both nationally and locally. Several who spoke were the first African Americans in the county to have achieved the positions they now hold.
“The NAACP is the reason why I stand here,” said Cobb District Attorney Joyette Holmes, who has made Cobb history twice, in 2015 as the first female and African American chief magistrate judge and this year as the first female and African-American DA.
Chief Magistrate Judge Brendan Murphy told he crowd he just named Tahnicia Phillips the next Magistrate Court Administrator, the first African American female to hold that position.
Scott Hamilton, a deputy chief at the Cobb County Police Department — also the first African American to hold that position — said great progress has been made, even in the past 15 years.
“I’m a 24-year vet of the Cobb County Police Department and I’ve seen a lot of changes in Cobb County,” Hamilton said. “15 years ago if you asked me if I would be in front of you as the deputy chief — knowing me I probably would have said yes.
“But I might not have been truthful to myself,” he continued. “Because things were a lot different. It was a lot different and a lot of people in this room know what I’m talking about.”
Moments later, Randy Crider, Cobb’s interim public safety director, told the crowd, “You’re looking at somebody that gets it.”
“I believe it’s important that we look like our community, that we understand the cultures in our community because that’s the only way we’re going to better serve those in our community,” he said. “I want you to know that I’m committed to that.”
And Michael Murphy, assistant to county Chairman Michael Boyce, lamented the new way in which people sow divisiveness: partisanship.
“I’m used to the days when people would say, ‘Is he black or is he white?’” he said. “But now it’s come down to what party you’re in.”
Doubling down on Reighard’s paean to unity, Murphy concluded his address by saying, “Folks, I’m here to tell you today: I’m in the people’s party. Welcome to Cobb.”
Tomorrow’s main speaker is the Rev. Nelson Rivers, vice president of religious affairs and external relations for the National Action Network. He will be speaking at the Atlanta Marriott Northwest at Galleria at noon.