President Donald Trump's decision to decline an invitation to attend the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's 108th annual convention, "underscores the harsh fact: we have lost—we've lost the will of the current Administration to listen to issues facing the Black community," said Leon Russell, the group's board chairman.
"It's extremely unfortunate...though I must admit, his refusal to attend our convention is not totally unexpected."
—Leon Russell, NAACP"It's extremely unfortunate that during these pressing and urgent times, the President has chosen to turn his back on the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization—though I must admit, his refusal to attend our convention is not totally unexpected," Russell said.
"This is the second time President Trump has refused an offer to speak at our annual convention," he added. "We get the message loud and clear."
NAACP is a bipartisan organization, and Trump's absence is a notable departure from his predecessors. In recent years, the group has hosted former presidents Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Ronald Reagan.
This is far from Trump's first brush with civil rights advocates. During his campaign, Trump provoked furious responses when said stop-and-frisk practices in New York and Chicago "worked very well." He also nominated former Senator Jeff Sessions to serve as attorney general—despite the fact that Sessions couldn't even get approved as a federal judge during the Reagan administration, because of troubling comments and actions regarding race. This is the second year in a row that Trump has bailed on the NAACP's annual convention. Last year, as a presidential candidate, he also declined their invitation.
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In a press briefing Wednesday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders wouldn't offer any insight into Trump's decision, and only said: "My understanding is that the invitation has been declined for this year," and the administration "would certainly like to be able to continue" a dialogue with the group.
"When President Trump is ready to listen to us and the people we serve, we will be here," Russell said. "Until then, the NAACP will continue to strive for an America free from racism and continue to speak truth to power."
Trump's latest snub comes amid a steady stream of fatal police shootings that continue to rattle the Black community, and the president's choice—in a nation where institutional racism remains deeply embedded in schools, public services, and the court system—sends a strong message about his priorities.
The NAACP is United States' oldest civil rights organization and claims more than half a million members and supporters. Its mission "is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination."