Updated at 4:10 p.m. ET
Members of the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, are heading into their annual meeting with no speaker from the White House and a new interim president and CEO. The meeting started Saturday in Baltimore.
On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that for the second year President Trump declined the NAACP’s invitation to speak at the national convention, which has hosted both Presidents Obama and George W. Bush while they were in office. Trump skipped the event last year as a presidential candidate.
Sanders said that the Trump administration would like to have dialogue with the group. In a written statement, the chair of the NAACP’s national board of directors, Leon Russell, said they’re ready.
But he also added that Trump’s decision “underscores the harsh fact … we’ve lost the will of the current administration to listen to issues facing the Black community.”
Despite not appearing on the convention’s schedule as a speaker, Trump is expected to be a main topic of discussion, especially during sessions on how activists can strategize under his administration.
Besides voting rights, policing and criminal justice reform, another major focus for members will be who will take over as the NAACP’s next president and CEO.
Derrick Johnson, previously the vice chairman of the group’s national board of directors, was named the interim president and CEO after a board vote at the convention. A longtime NAACP member, Johnson has also served as state president of Mississippi State Conference NAACP.
The NAACP’s most recent leader, Cornell Brooks, stepped down a few weeks ago after its national board of directors decided to not renew his contract.
Russell says the board hopes to announce its next president by the end of this year. The group is set to launch a national listening tour, which starts in Detroit in August followed by San Antonio, Texas, in September and then will go to five additional cities. Russell says he wants to hear from NAACP members and other activists around the country.
“What we’re doing is giving them an opportunity to have input,” he says. “We want the entire organization to buy into supporting our leadership going forward.”