Springfield conference celebrates 50 years of Civil Rights Act - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Springfield conference celebrates 50 years of Civil Rights Act

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

The landmark legislation outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

Over 500 people are spending Thursday and Friday at the Downtown Marriott for the Northeast Regional Fair Housing and Civil Rights conference.

Organizers told CBS 3 that it is the largest conference in its eight-year history.

The event, which is sponsored in part by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), allows those in attendance to go over workplace rights.

"That's very important for employers and others in a position to make hiring decisions," said EEOC Chair Jacqueline Berrien. "But, it's also important that employees and job-seekers understand their rights under the laws that we enforce."

The EEOC was created by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Berrien said they receive approximately 100,000 new charges of discrimination every year, but the legislation was about more than just workplace rights.

"With the passage of the civil rights bill, there was Medicaid and Medicare for folks who didn't have insurance to get coverage," said Dr. Rodney Hood, a medical historian and guest speaker at the conference. "In the African-American community, that was real significant in beginning to decrease disparities."

Hood said moving forward, health systems have to become even more multicultural.

"What we're seeing with the Affordable Care Act and other initiatives, there is more funding going to the local initiatives," Hood stated. "Especially for those in underserved, poor areas and multi-ethnic areas."

While those in attendance are looking back 50 years and looking ahead to the next five decades, they are taking away something very important from this week's event.

"Support," said Lorraine Woodson, a diversity director for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. "Actually having support, seeing that there are other people out there doing the same work that I'm doing, having a supportive team. Knowing that you're not in this alone. That's what I see."

Day one of the conference wraps up an awards ceremony Thursday evening.

Day two will begin on Friday at 9 a.m.

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