Feature Photo of Richard Todd Edward by AC JosepH Media
By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ATLANTIC CITY – Most of the regional media attending the NAACP national convention press conference on Thursday (April 28) may not have recognized Richard Todd Edwards sitting in the front row with the top power brokers of the nation’s premier civil rights organization but Edwards said he likes it that way.
Edwards, a Bridgeton funeral home director and member of the Cumberland County Utilities Authority board, has long been a behind-the-scenes political player in the region and used his influence to help New Jersey State Conference and Atlantic City land the prestigious NAACP national convention.
The convention, which will take place July 14-20, will bring some of the biggest names in civil rights and politics to Atlantic City to address the organization’s prominent members.
“I can’t even put words to say how valuable he is,” New Jersey State Conference President Richard Smith told Front Runner New Jersey.com on Thursday. Smith is one of the foremost civil rights voices in the Garden State.
“Sometimes you got to have folks close to you. I never go anywhere by myself and 90% of the time, he’s with me. He’s my right hand man. I can call him at any time of the day. He embraces the vision. He does the work without all of the nonsense and the craziness.
“You can’t share your dream with everybody because sometimes the devil will put people in place. Those people will listen to your dream and try to derail it. He is a true supporter and a good brother. I’m just blessed to have him.”
Edwards said he doesn’t have to be on stage or make a speech in front of the press to validate his contributions or commitment. He said being a part of helping bring the convention to Atlantic City is satisfying.
“I do my best to be a team player,” Edwards said after the news conference in historic Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall. “There is nothing bad about being behind the scenes. My father was my role model so I know I’m making my pops proud by being involved at the level that I am with the NAACP and having the national convention come here.
“I’m excited to bring my children here for that week so they can see black and brown people showing our power because this is power, which is the slogan of the convention.”
Edwards said the planning was two years in the making, but that planning “takes real money” to make it happen. He said through all the effort and the fundraising, he believes the convention will have the financial and influential impact it was meant to have locally throughout South Jersey.
NJ’s Civil Rights Voice
Smith’s local ties runs deep as the equal employment opportunity director of Gloucester County. Before that, he spent four years as warden at the Cumberland County Jail after more than 25 years at the state’s Department of Corrections.
He said bringing the NAACP national convention to Atlantic City is “huge” for South Jersey and it was just a matter of believing to get it done.
“I’m always at the point where I think we can do anything,” Smith told Front Runner New Jersey. “We were able to bring everybody together here in Atlantic City and to do this now especially coming off of this pandemic is huge.
“From a personal standpoint, over the past 10 years, the change that we have effected in lives of black folks in New Jersey has been important. People don’t even know about bail reform, the opportunity to compete, and putting 83,000 folks back on the voting rolls, the legalization of marijuana, all of that would not have happened had it not been for the NAACP.
“So we’re just proud of the work that we’ve done to be able to share that with folks across the country. But from a personal standpoint, I’m just thankful to be blessed,” Smith said.
Atlantic City NAACP President Kaleem Shabazz said it was Smith who convinced him that the city could make a successful bid for the NAACP national convention.
“I love Atlantic City. I’m a cheerleader for Atlantic City. I’m an elected official in Atlantic City,” Shabazz said. “But I thought that it might be a struggle [to get the national convention]. And it was a struggle, but it was a successful struggle.
“I thank [Smith] for his leadership, to Chairman Russell, President Johnson, convention chairman, attorney, mom [Hazel] Dukes, thank you all for believing in Atlantic City.”
No Bad Times in Atlantic City
Shabazz said Atlantic City has a reputation as a place where tourists and convention attendees can let their hair down and promised the resort town will not disappoint in July.
“We are excellent in doing conventions in Atlantic City,” Shabazz said. “You can’t come to Atlantic City and have a bad time, even if you want to because that’s what we do.”
Shabazz said some 300 local youth will take part in the convention in some fashion in Atlantic City and promised that local businesses will reap the benefits from some 10,000 delegates attending.
He also said a brochure that will help attendees identify local businesses and services, like hair salons, barbershops, etc., will be created.
Some locals have long complained that local businesses and services don’t receive the windfall from Atlantic City’s tourism and convention industry. Shabazz said making sure that happens at this convention, where Blacks and Latinos make up the majority of its residents, was logical.
Mayor Marty Small downplayed the mixed review the city received the last time the NAACP held its convention in the city in the 1960s, saying, “that was then and this is now.” He also promised that the city will be safe and accommodating for the NAACP delegates.
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