The country's oldest and largest African-American religious convention is underway in uptown Charlotte.
The National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., runs today through Friday.
The annual gathering serves as the major business meeting for the boards, auxiliaries and member churches that belong to the convention. Assistant director of convention registration Rev. Jimmie Banks said it's also a time for participants to focus on faith.
"The church must be in the forefront of leadership to bring us back to where we ought to be as a nation," Banks said.
This is the first time the convention has been held in the Carolinas. Organizers expect around 25,000 participants. The Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority said 12,000 hotel rooms will be booked during the five-day event.
Dr. Clifford Jones, pastor at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in northwest Charlotte, led the charge to lure organizers to select the Queen City to host the major convention.
"With a little arm-twisting and a lot of love and prayer, they decided to come to Charlotte," he said.
One of his selling points was making the convention a city-wide affair.
"Today we're at three churches, Mt. Moriah Baptist, Mt. Zion and Mt. Sinai, doing outreach with homeless women, a cookout and a health fair," he said.
The CRVA won't know how much money the convention-goers bring into the city until after it's over. Last year's convention was held in Atlanta. According to Black Meetings and Tourism Online Magazine, 22,000 people attended with an estimated $10.8 million economic impact.
Mital Naik owns Brazz Carvery and Steakhouse right across the street from the convention center. He let Eyewitness News inside as he prepped for what he hopes will be a busy day.
"Today, Labor Day, we would generally be closed, but we decided to stay open since we knew they were going to be in town," he said.
"We spend money within the city and that's good because it should be a blessing not only to the church but the community economically," Jones said.
The convention will be held in New Orleans next year.