The need to vote, the importance of education and the development of positive relations between police departments and communities are topics to be covered this weekend when members of Ohio NAACP chapters meet in the Belden Village area.

Canton's NAACP chapter is serving as host for the 88th state convention for the organization. Sessions begin Friday at the Holiday Inn Belden Village and wrap up on Saturday.

The theme is "Defeat hate. Vote."

Members believe the theme speaks to a situation today where civil rights once considered permanent are under attack.

"There seems to be a freedom for people to not reign themselves in," said Deborah Shamlin, president of Canton's NAACP chapter.

The NAACP is an organization of people united by cause, not by color, she said. Progress has been made through the years as people have worked for equality and fairness, but that progress is being threatened.

"It's not the thought of going backwards, it's the thought of being at a standstill," Shamlin said. NAACP members don't want to lose what has been built through years of effort.

Voting rights are at the forefront of the convention, especially with elections coming in November that will see Ohio elect a new governor and could lead to changes in Congressional leadership.

Shamlin said NAACP members will discuss helping people to register or check their registration, mobilizing within their community and developing practical action to help inform voters.

"We want informed voters," Shamlin said. "We'll take a look at what we've done and share."

A general session on civic engagement is scheduled for Saturday morning, with Ohio Rep. Amelia Sykes, D-Akron, discussing issues that are part of the upcoming midterm elections.

Saturday's program also includes a general session during the afternoon on criminal justice and pathways to police and community relations. Ron Ponder will serve as moderator for the discussion, which will include members of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police.

Canton Police Chief Jack Angelo and Perry Township Police Chief Michael Pomesky, along with Terry Echols, Walsh University director of multicultural affairs, are scheduled to participate, Shamlin said.

Other general session programs will examine education, youth involvement and women in the NAACP.

Time also has been set aside for workshop blocks covering a variety of topics. Using online voter databases will be covered in a political action and civic engagement workshop. There also are workshops on mental health and health disparities, economic development and criminal justice.

The convention is open to all NAACP members. There are about 60 NAACP chapters — including Canton and Massillon — around Ohio and Shamlin anticipates about 100 members will attend.