The NAACP's national president, in remarks at a Long Island conference Saturday, told members of his organization they were part of a "modern civil rights movement" and said a generation of young activists was "held in the vise grip of the past and the present."
Cornell William Brooks, who has led the civil rights organization since last year, was the keynote speaker at the NAACP New York State Conference's 79th statewide convention, held at the Hilton hotel in Melville.
Brooks focused his speech on a young generation of African-Americans faced with a "rising tide of income inequality," a "pandemic of police misconduct" and the erosion of voting rights.
The 106-year-old NAACP, he stressed, was up to the task.
"Because this is an age of activism, we're going to have to file lawsuits," Brooks told about 250 people in the hotel's ballroom. "We're going to have to write legislation. Some of us, your CEO included, may need to go to jail. We need to take the fight to them."
Brooks, in a nod to the Black Lives Matter movement, said the NAACP holds that "all lives matter, whether your skin is black or your uniform is blue."
The state conference, which began Friday and was scheduled to conclude Sunday, drew representatives from as far as Buffalo, Syracuse and Nyack, as well as leaders of Long Island's 11 chapters.
NAACP Long Island director Tracey Edwards said in an interview that Long Island is a microcosm of the country when it comes to issues facing African-Americans, including economic development, civil rights, education and healthcare.
Long Island officials who spoke at Saturday's event included Suffolk legislators William Spencer and Monica Martinez, Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone and Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright.
Cartright, the first African-American elected to the Brookhaven Town Board, said Long Island is known as a "very desirable place to live" yet data show it "still remains one of the most segregated areas in the country."
Martinez said the discovery last year of 50,000 tons of hazardous waste dumped at a Brentwood park was an example of "disparities we see based on our color and our culture."
"This would not happen in any other community that was not of color," she said. "If you look at history, it's always the low-income, minority districts where things of this nature happen."Martinez called for Latinos to join the NAACP, saying "we face a lot of the same obstacles." Brooks, in his speech, also advocated for a "multiracial, multiethnic, multigenerational" NAACP.