NORMAL, Ill. (WMBD) — More than 700 people gathered at the Marriott in Normal in the name of being Black, Beautiful and Thriving Together. That was the theme for the 86th Annual Illinois NAACP State Convention.

“We are the oldest, the boldest, the most loved, the most hated Civil Rights organization in the world,” said Teresa Haley, Illinois NAACP State Conference President. “And 115 years later after the 1908 race riots in Springfield, Illinois we are still standing strong.”

The Bloomington-Normal NAACP Branch hosted the convention in conjunction with its annual Freedom Fund Banquet. Nationally renowned Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin Crump was the keynote speaker for the banquet.

“I’m very proud to be in Illinois. A state who has proclaimed they would exalt Black history, and Hispanic history and history for all of our children,” he said. “Isn’t that the America we want? Where we say we’re all valued, we’re all respected and we all matter.”

In her introduction of Crump, First Vice-President Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson used an acronym of his last name to describe him as courageous, resilient, undeniably amazing, mighty and powerful.

“Attorney Crump’s steadfast dedication towards justice and equality speaks volumes,” said Campbell-Jackson.

In his keynote speech, Crump first charged the audience to be unapologetic freedom fighters.

“If our unapologetic freedom fighters commit themselves to the struggle for liberty and equality then we will stop this onslaught from these embolden enemies of inequality,” said Crump. “And now more than ever we have to have unapologetic freedom fighters.”

Crump’s words not only inspired the adults in the room but also the youth such as Bradley Ross Jackson who may pursue a career as a lawyer.

“I think he is a phenomenal advocate for racial and social justice,” said Jackson, President of Bloomington-Normal NAACP Youth Council. “We have a prominent figure in history that is coming to our home of Bloomington-Normal, this small city, and I think it’s going to make a positive impact on the world as well.”

In his fight for justice, Crump has represented the families of Martin Lee Anderson, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and the list goes on. Locally, he represents the family of Jelani Day and Campbell-Jackson with her lawsuit against State Farm.

“When I think of Dr. Carla Campbell-Jackson it gives me hope because she is an example of an unapologetic defender of civil liberties,” said Crump. “An unapologetic freedom fighter no matter where she goes. We need more Dr. Carla Campbell-Jacksons in America to make a better world for all of our children.”

Crump said the struggle for equality and justice is a long journey.

“And we can’t feel no ways tired on this journey,” he said. “We have to remind America that diversity and equity and inclusion are good things. We have to find our moral compass and we have to be unapologetic freedom fighters for liberty and justice for all Americans.”

With critical race theory and book bans looming across the country, in closing Crump charged the audience to fight for the education of the nation’s children.

“We have to be willing to fight for our children’s future until hell freezes over,” he said. “And then brothers and sisters we got to be ready to fight on the ice. That’s how much our children have to know we believe in their future.”

The Peoria NAACP Branch Freedom Fund Banquet is on Sept 30. with journalist Roland Martin as the keynote speaker.