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NAACP focusing its efforts on economics, education health and public safety

David Berman Gazette Staff Writer

CHILLICOTHE — The NAACP’s five “game changers” are driving the agenda at the civil rights organization’s state convention, which is being staged in Chillicothe this weekend.

Adopted in 2011 as part of the NAACP’s strategic plan, the game changers — economic sustainability, education, health, public safety and criminal justice — along with voting rights and political representation, represent what the organization’s leadership has identified as major areas of inequality facing African-Americans in the 21st century.

“We are always pushing the agenda of the national office, so everything we do is centered around those five areas,” said Sybil Edwards-McNabb, the six-term president of the Ohio Conference of the NAACP.

“We all know we’re here to fight for the five game changers,” said Jonathan McKinney, field organizer for Region III of the NAACP, which covers Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.

In the past year, several high-profile court cases and legislative issues connected to public safety and voting rights have galvanized the NAACP.

The highly-publicized arrest and trial of George Zimmerman — the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who was found not guilty of second-degree murder and manslaughter after he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black high school student — has fueled debate around “Stand Your Ground” laws, which allow a person, who thinks he or she is in danger, to use deadly force in self-defense.

The NAACP has taken a strong stance against the laws, including one proposed in Ohio.

House Bill 203, introduced in June, would eliminate the need to retreat when claiming self-defense as long as the victim was not trespassing. Current Ohio law does not require victims to retreat when in their home, vehicle or relative’s vehicle — a legal principle known as the Castle Doctrine.

Derrick Foward, president of the Dayton unit of the NAACP, said the organization is not objecting to the rest of the bill, only the “Stand Your Ground” provision.

“Any type of ‘Stand Your Ground’ legislation, we are thoroughly opposed to it and will do whatever we can to oppose it,” Foward said.

Voting laws, particularly those that make it more difficult to cast a ballot, also have drawn the group’s ire.

“Civic engagement is critical because there’s an attack on voting rights going on right now around the country,” said Jerome Reide, Region III director.

Reide pointed to the successful efforts in 2012 in Ohio to overturn legislation that would have shortened the early voting window.

“The NAACP, the labor movement and other progressive forces were able to get together and beat that back,” he said. “But those attacks are continuing and people need to know the NAACP will be there to press that fight.”