At the Florida Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on Saturday, Gov. Charlie Crist praised the organization as a leader in fairness and described several civil rights leaders who inspired him.
Crist was the keynote speaker at the closing banquet of the NAACP's convention, where he addressed a crowd of a little more than 500 at Gainesville's Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
He was the first Florida governor in 64 years to speak at the conference.
It took Crist about 10 minutes to enter the church because he was shaking so many hands.
During his speech, he described the impact several civil rights leaders had on his life, including Verle Davis, his high school principal and the first black principal at St. Petersburg High School.
"Because of his influence, I am who I am today," Crist said, referring to Davis as a "great American."
"I haven't reached as high as he has yet, but I'm trying."
Crist also mentioned his father, a member of the Pinellas County School Board who served as team doctor for St. Petersburg's Gibbs High School all-black football team in the 1960s.
His father insisted on bringing him to the games, where Crist said he sat in on locker-room pep talks and prayed with the team before the game.
"It taught me a lot at a very early age that we're all the same," Crist said. "We all have the same hopes, the same dreams, the same aspirations."
Crist also praised the NAACP as a leader in "doing unto others," a rule he said drives his administration.
"Civil rights and simple human justice and doing what's right for your fellow man, being kind, being gracious, being decent. These things are important. These things matter," Crist said. "That is what the NAACP stands for. I am proud to be a lifetime member of the NAACP."
During his address and while answering media questions afterward, he mentioned Florida's high property taxes, his efforts to attract black voters and the Florida Parole Commission's new regulations for restoring civil rights to ex-criminal offenders.
Crist did reach out to several Democratic members of the Florida Legislature attending the banquet, saying their bipartisan efforts were contributing to the "golden era of the Florida Legislature."