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Boston NAACP branch hosts day of service ahead of national convention

Tanisha Sullivan, the NAACP Boston branch president, spoke at the kickoff of the Day of Action and Service.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Days before the NAACP holds its first national convention in Boston in four decades, the city’s chapter of the civil rights organization on Saturday pulled weeds along the Neponset River in Mattapan, fed homeless people near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, and planted flowers in Dorchester as part of a day of service.

Tanisha Sullivan, president of the NAACP’s Boston branch, opened the daylong event by addressing a news conference near the Harvest River Bridge in Mattapan.

“There is power in service and today we celebrate the volunteerism of Bostonians,” she said. “We celebrate the volunteerism of Bay Staters and those all across New England with an understanding that our communities are anchored by volunteers.”

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The community service projects in Boston were replicated across the region as other local NAACP chapters also hosted volunteer events. At the news conference in Mattapan, Sullivan was joined by Lieutenant Governor Kim Driscoll, Mayor Michelle Wu,and other elected officials from the Boston City Council and state Legislature.

Driscoll told the gathering she had dressed to help with the outdoor cleanup.

“I brought my work clothes. I’m working today,” she said.

The national NAACP convention was initially scheduled to be held in Boston in 2020, but most of the events were conducted virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organization promised to return to Boston for its 2023 convention and this year’s theme is “Thriving Together.”

Events begin Wednesday at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center in the Seaport with the opening of Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics or ACT-SO competition, a showcase for high school students. The convention starts Friday and concludes on the following Tuesday.

Wu said the NAACP convention “is unlike any other,” and draws a multigenerational crowd.

“That’s really the vision for the city of Boston too. We want to be the best city for families,” she said. “The multigenerational family needs to find a way to thrive together and strengthen their roots right here in community.”

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Michael Groves of Hyde Park brought his three children to the kickoff event in Mattapan and said his wife, Michelle Miller Groves, is helping with the convention.

Having the event in Boston is a chance to showcase the city and its efforts to create a more inclusive environment, Groves said. It’s also an opportunity to show opposition to last month’s Supreme Court ruling striking down affirmative action in college admissions and legislative efforts to limit programs that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, he said.

“There’s a certain timeliness to having the convention here considering various rulings and laws that have been enacted over the years,” Groves said. “It’s good to be able to galvanize the voices around the country and in the community and say, ‘Hey, this is not acceptable.’ ”

Michael Groves took a break from cleaning up the Neponset River Greenway, with his daughter Imani and son Jaiden.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Sullivan said the nation is faced with “critical decisions about what our future will be.”

“We know that our nation is under attack. We know that our rights are under attack,” she said.

Richard Andrew, a National Grid supervisor from Taunton, attended the kickoff event in Mattapan with his son, Tristan, and daughter, Ri’Shana. He said Boston’s role as host of the NCAAP convention will bring attention to the city’s diversity.

“We got to show that it’s diverse here,” he said. “I think it’s important that we do that.”

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Mikey Myles and Anissa Booker, personal care attendants and members of 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said they hope the convention brings attention to the suffering of city residents dealing with the impacts of violence and substance abuse.

“I’m tired of the violence. I’m tired of the drugs. I’m tired of people dying,” said Booker, 54, a Dorchester resident, who attended the event in Mattapan.

Myles, 55, said the neighborhoods of Roxbury, Dorchester, and Mattapan need the most attention.

“We’re hoping that the NAACP’s presence will make a difference,” she said. “Everyone’s showing for the photo op, but what’s happening when the cameras are gone? When the NAACP is gone? Where’s everybody at?”

Fatima Seck watered vegetables at the Mel King School garden in the South End. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Some volunteers visited a city-run shelter for men on Southampton Street, near Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard, the epicenter of the state’s housing and opioid crises. Their visit coincided with lunch time, and volunteers helped serve sandwiches, pickles, and fruit cocktails.

One of the volunteers, Gretchen Chalmus-Johnson, 68, of Roslindale, said she also donates her time answering phones for a hotline run by the state Department of Children and Families and being a companion to older people through her organization, Heartfelt Helping Hands.

“To much is given, much is expected,” said Chalmus-Johnson, who wore a black baseball cap with the word Blessed written on it.

Another volunteer, Vanessa Nascimento-Oli, said she is a member of the NAACP’s branch in Brockton.

“Service is something that’s important to me and it’s important for us to invest in the communities that we work in,” she said.

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In the Four Corners neighborhood of Dorchester, the Four Corners Main Street program organized volunteers who planted flowers and spread mulch around trees on Washington Street.

Edmund Standford, 35, volunteered with his fraternity, Omega Psi Phi.

“Growing up as an African American in this country, I’ve heard stories from my grandmother about racism that we’ve experienced and I understand that the NAACP’s mission has always been to push for social action and equal opportunities for everyone,” he said.

He said he appreciates the work the NAACP does.

“Volunteering always means so much to me because it’s giving back,” Standford said. “When we understand the history of some of these neighborhoods, these used to be thriving Black neighborhoods that were amazing to walk through. So I come and help give back and try to restore some of that.”

Juwan Skeens trimmed branches from trees at the Mel King School garden in the South End. John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Another group of volunteers was dispatched to the Melvin H. King South End Academy where they tended to a garden that provides vegetables for the Haley House Soup Kitchen.

Nadine Moore, 65, an NAACP member who volunteered at the garden, said she wanted to show her support for the community.

“This is the kickoff for the NAACP’s 114th national convention,” she said. “That’s what we’re celebrating.”


Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her @lauracrimaldi. Bailey Allen can be reached at bailey.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @baileyaallen.