No lost or confused souls should be found at the NAACP convention this week. NAACP members have taken on the role of ambassadors, providing directions to rooms in the Baltimore Convention Center and any other assistance.
The ready chaperones - identifiable by white hats emblazoned with a blue "NAACP Ambassador" and matching oversized "Ask Me" stickers on their clothing - have their duty down to a T.
"It's my job to greet people and make sure that they know where they are going and that they are going in the right direction," said Betsy Booker, a member of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is holding its 91st annual convention here this week.
Booker also was a guide for the 1986 NAACP national convention in Baltimore.
"Our ambassadors only need to know four basic things," said Michele Emery, chairwoman of the 500-member crew, which is stationed in shifts throughout the convention center. "Where is the restroom, where are the telephones, where registration is located and the phone number to our office, so if we don't know something we can find out the information from somewhere else."
"They respond so quickly," said Juan Cortez of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, who asked an ambassador yesterday for the location of voting booths for NAACP national board members. Cortez, a member of the NAACP for more than 30 years, has been attending national conventions since 1982.
"It's a big asset to the national convention to be able to turn to someone for answers to your questions," Cortez said. "I hope it continues."
This year, the planning committee chose to call them ambassadors - they were nameless before - because they were guides in territory unfamiliar to convention-goers. "We don't want for anyone to be alone while they are here," Emery said. "We want to make sure that they have a good time."
Dr. Thelma T. Daley, local host coordinator for the convention, said they are "ambassadors of good will from the city. The name gives them dignity."
Throughout the day, they act as tour guides, traveling on trips to the NAACP national headquarters in Northwest Baltimore or the Great Blacks in Wax museum in the eastern part of the city. The ambassadors also act as "dinner buddies," meeting people in their hotel lobbies, beginning at 5:30 each evening, to go out to dinner and talk about the day's events. "When you're in a strange place you haven't been, you need direction to different places," Hunt said.
The convention may be filled with participants, but not everyone has all the answers, said one, Wreatha Anderson of Washington. She received directions to her hotel from ambassador Beverly Darby of Kansas City.
Karen Brady says ambassadorship can present opportunities. "I met [former Executive Director] Benjamin Hooks and his wife in Memphis three years ago, and I just saw [board Chairman] Julian Bond. I haven't seen him in 13 years. This is really good for networking and for meeting all different types of people from different places. "
Brady is accustomed to celebrity sightings, having served as ambassador at every NAACP convention she has attended.
"It's great exposure for us to get around and meet a lot of people," Brady said. "By being an ambassador, you find out that everyone has a story about how they got here, why they're here or what they're here for. This job becomes just a little bit more than 'ask me.'"
Still, the consensus is the same for ambassadors. "We just want for this to be the best convention ever, since it is held in the headquarters of the national office," Emery said.
One way to make that happen, she said, is to "smile. Always smile."
Sun staff writer Maria Blackburn contributed to this report.