Monday, July 24, 2017

Can the NAACP Get it Together?

(Baltimore) – There is an uneasiness as membership of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People convene in Baltimore for their 108th annual gathering. The storm clouds are both internal and external. 

As they arrive and do the ground work, questions abound about who will lead the oldest civil rights organization. There is no Chief Executive Officer. Cornell W. Brooks’ contract was not renewed in May. Leading the group is the Board Chair, Leon Russell and Vice Chair, Derrick  Johnson. Delegates began arriving on Saturday (7/22/17). The Executive Board decided late in the afternoon to name Johnson as the Interim CEO. It will squash the numerous questions from chapter leaders. According to Chairman Russell, "we’re in a period of transition." An understatement.


It’s been difficult to stay relevant as groups like Black Lives Matter (BLM) were driving the Civil Rights narrative. The organization warmed to ideas from BLM. It included issues related to the killing of unarmed Black men and women, and the failure of juries to convict police officers. It's no secret the oldest Civil Rights organization wasn’t necessarily thrilled with BLM tactics. 

The NAACP faced criticism from groups like the Black Panthers, SNCC and the Nation of Islam in the 60's. It's almost like de'ja'vu. What concerned the oldest Civil Rights organization was BLM's ability to mobilized young people. Social media is driving an underserved community into the streets. The confrontation with police is a sore spot for the leadership of the NAACP. Russell cautioned "we can protest in the street (create disturbances), but it justifies more police aggression." Listening to all this was A.J. Ali, a filmmaker who has produced a documentary called "Walking While Black." "There is no program in place to foster pro-activity, it's only reactive."

Another sore spot for the civil rights organization are millennials inability to see a how there vote brings about political change. This group was excited and mobilized to elect the first Black
President, Barrack Obama. However, they were lukewarm to Hillary Clinton.
Some saw Vermont Senator Bernie Saunders more palatable as a Democratic Presidential standard bearer. Sen. Saunders tapped into their frustration. Some of his supporters in the Black community (younger) decided to sit out the presidential election. "Elections quite frankly matter," according to NAACP Board Chairman Russell, "By not voting in every election...they are tacitly allowing the kind of treatment they receive."

 The Promise

A day before the arrival of the delegates, the hallways in the Baltimore Convention Centers are filled with bright eyed faces waiting their turn to compete for this year's Academic, Cultural, Technological, Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO).  Some are dressed in gowns and tuxes to perform in singing and musical competition. Young women and men practice their routines, re-read their lines, and mental go over what got them to Baltimore. This is the promise of the NAACP. Provide a platform to showcase not just athletic ability but intellectual capacity to reshape their world. They are committed to the ideals of the NAACP. It's clear no one has told these young people how to shape an organization. Especially with vicious attacks from outside forces.

On college campuses the local chapters are a nurturing ground for political dialogue and engagement. At HBCU's they know the "Black Cause," and use their participation to create "street creed" for a world where they won't be in the majority. At majority "white" colleges and universities they are singled out when members draw attention to injustice from administrators and faculty (University of Missouri), and insensitivity by their fellow students (American University). 

This is bottled up energy looking for direction. It's clear, their promise has been muted by that age old adage, "wait your turn." It's finally about to change in a meaningful way.

One of the programs the organization rolled out in Baltimore was its Next Generation Program (NexGen). The NexGen program is a 12 month leadership development initiative targeting 21 -35 year olds who've participated in youth councils, college chapters and young adult councils. Those participating in the program will get training in legislative action, unit administration, and advocacy. 

Akousa Ali, the President of the Washington, DC Chapter of the NAACP, is heading up the national initiative. She estimates there may be as many as 300,000 individuals who could be eligible. The organization hasn't always groomed those who could take over leadership. Ali lamented that some chapters have embraced this idea but others have not. When asked why? "It's about opportunity." The 34 year old who leads the nations capital branch talked about putting young people on various committees. "Graduates of the training will go on to participate in the NAACP’s Leadership 500 (L500) program."

Who You Gonna Call?

Large urban areas have vast networks of resources which aid in bring attention to the many causes supported by the NAACP.  But in small towns the work is harder. Corporate support can add to your resources, but what do you do when it isn't available. Do you pack up shop and use that old analogy, "we'll get them next time." Some issues don't have time wait according to its leaders. Board Chair Russell and the Interim CEO Johnson made a point to talk about the U. S Congress' impending vote to dismantle the Affordable Health Care Law (commonly referred to as ObamaCare).

"Healthcare is a civil rights issue," according to Interim CEO Johnson. "We are at a juncture where people are trying to redefine the role of government. If that is done, African-Americans and working class people will be left out."  On an issue that will effect 1/6 of the U.S. economy you would think those shaping legislation would want to hear from the largest civil rights organization. Neither the Republicans nor President Donald Trump are interested. Johnson talked about how the organization has mobilized its members and communities to send emails to congress. Is anyone listening? Despite being sent an invite to address the group, President Trump has decline just as he did when he was a candidate.


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