NEW YORK -- NAACP members and leaders are gathering in Milwaukee starting this weekend for the group's annual convention, a meeting that comes at a crucial time for the civil rights organization as it seeks to overcome months of turmoil.
Though many are anxious to learn more about the group's incoming president, Bruce S. Gordon is not expected to give a speech or formally participate in the convention because he does not officially start the job until Aug. 1.
The NAACP bills itself as the largest civil rights organization in the country, but it has seen its influence greatly diminish in recent years amid financial woes, an IRS audit, and allegations that the former president gave preferential treatment to an employee he was dating.
''This is a period of transition for the NAACP," said Donna Brazile, a political consultant who will speak to young people at the 96th annual convention. ''This is a whole new era. . . . It's essential for the NAACP to prepare itself for the future."
More than 8,000 people are expected to attend the gathering and tackle such hot-button issues as healthcare, economic equality, and the selection of a new Supreme Court justice.
Gordon said he will be ''in a learning mode, in absorption mode" at the convention, meeting mostly in private with members and organization leaders.
''I'm going to look for opportunities to get offline, so to speak, and have some candid conversations with folks," he said.
''I will do as much listening as talking. People are curious about me. I'm also curious about them."
For the fifth consecutive year, President Bush has declined to speak at the convention.
This year, he had scheduling conflicts, said Dana Perino, a White House spokeswoman.
Though Bush spoke to the NAACP's 2000 convention before being elected, he is the first sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to address such a gathering.
Last October, amid heavy criticism of the Bush administration by NAACP officials, the Internal Revenue Service launched an investigation that now threatens the group's tax-exempt status.
Gordon has said he will try to forge friendlier ties with Bush.