"We may not have all the power that we want, but we have all the power that we need," Gordon said. "All we have to do is believe it and use it."
Gordon's comments were part of his first keynote convention speech as head of the Baltimore-based civil rights group. The 97th annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is meeting at a convention center through Thursday.
He urged members to keeping pushing for reauthorization of expiring portions of the Voting Rights Act, which is scheduled for a vote this week in the Senate, and to improve black voter turnout.
"Voting is choosing how we live and who we elect to help us," he said.
His words echoed those of NAACP chairman Julian Bond, who spoke Sunday and blasted the war in Iraq and attacks on voting rights — even as he urged President Bush to attend the group's convention.
"This year the convention has come to the president and we hope and pray he is coming to us," said Bond, speaking about a mile from the White House.
Bush has skipped the conventions since taking office in 2001, making him the first sitting president in decades not to have spoken to the NAACP. His schedule for Wednesday lists an event with the notation "TBA," or to be announced.
Bond said Bush's presence would show that he hears the concerns of African-Americans. "We have values, we vote our values, and we demand to be valued in return," he said.
Bond urged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, condemned attacks on school integration and said the war in Iraq "has weakened rather than strengthened America's defenses, including our levees."
He added: "Our troops may be fighting to secure democracy abroad, but we can't secure our democracy at home."