A group of Black Baptist preachers who trace the origins of their organization back to 1961 and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. will convene in New Orleans for their annual gathering where voting rights will dominate the agenda.

The Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc. [PNBC], under the leadership of its president, Dr. James C. Perkins, will celebrate its 55th annual session from Aug. 7-14. Considered the Emerald Anniversary, clergy and lay members from over 2,000 churches, totaling an estimated 5,000 attendees, are expected to participate in the weeklong event.

Perkins said with the upcoming presidential election less than 100 days away, one of the primary topics for discussion will be the importance of the vote.

“We want our members to understand how vitally important it is for them to participate in the elections because of what’s at stake. And with more than 30 states having recently changed their voting laws, we’re urging our members to familiarize themselves with the voting laws in their respective states. We don’t want any votes to be kicked out on a technicality,” said Perkins, 65, who has served as the pastor of Greater Christ Baptist Church in Detroit for the past 35 years.

“We’re targeting not only our members but we’re also advising them to make sure people in their circle are registered to vote as well. Then we need to get our people to the polls. We’ve been emphasizing these themes for the last two years,” Perkins added.

The internationally recognized minister who became the 20th president of the PNBC in August 2014, said his denomination adopted a strategy, the Progressive Factor, last year which encourages partnering with organizations like the SCLC, the NAACP and local ministerial groups in order to get more people to the polls.

“Our goal is to register one million people — with that we’re confident that we can help decide the outcome of the election,” he said.

He also said that working with youth and teaching them Black history remain two of the fundamental goals of his denomination.

“Youth don’t view voting as important because they’re so removed, several generations, from the era in which Dr. King lived,” Perkins said. “They think of Dr. King as a historical figure — a person in a book. They don’t understand that we’ve come full circle with low wages, police brutality and voter suppression. Even some of our seasoned ministers believed that we had arrived. It’s clear that we haven’t.”

“As for our denomination, which was the organizational and spiritual home of Dr. King and other Baptist pastors who supported him and the civil rights movement, we have always emphasized spiritual justice and the prophetic ministry.”

“We can learn from our youth particularly given their familiarity with today’s technology. At the same time it’s the job of the elders to teach youth that we all have certain duties and responsibilities as Christians. Voting is one of those duties,” said Perkins, whose vision of ministry has led him to focus on economic development, community growth, housing for low- and middle-income families and the establishment of a K-6th grade, all-boys Christian school.

During the annual session, the PNBC will distribute kits to all of their ministers that provide tips for organizing a voter’s registration committee in their churches along with other information on voter registration.

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