Let’s begin with what I believe are the facts. The NAACP is the largest and the oldest, the baddest and the boldest, the most loved and the most hated, the most feared and revered, the most cussed and discussed Civil Rights organization in America.
Founded in 1909, the organization has a large legacy to stand on. This was an organization whose members fought for our rights even when it could cost them their lives. The NAACP has been in the midst of every major civil rights advancement African Americans have obtained in this country.
That said, the organization is certainly a shell of what it was in the first half of the 20th Century. However, I feel comfortable we can all agree, the need for a strong civil rights organization still exist. In their announcement that left wondering what in the heck was really going on, they identified a list of major challenges still impacting communities of color. In fact their point was, things are getting worse, not better.
It’s Getting Bad Out There
“Additional barriers have been placed in our way in the forms of voter suppression, increased police brutality, over criminalization of Black bodies, income inequality and inadequate health care…”
Yep, many of the issues we thought were addressed decades ago are right back in our faces. The long hard fought gain of school integration is being reversed as schools in metropolitan areas across the country grow increasingly more segregated. With Congress able to get little done, Pres. Obama used his executive order power to implement lots of favorable policy changes. However, with the power of the executive order squarely in Pres. Trump’s hand, our gains of four years are quickly being erased, including gun control, environmental, and immigration policies – just to name a few.
Over in Obama’s Justice Department, Atty. General Eric Holder sent directions to the 94 district attorney’s offices across the country that told them ease up on prosecution of non-violent and drug crimes. They bought into the fact that America had too many people locked up and something needed to be done about it.
Over in Trump’s Justice Department, Atty. General Jeff Sessions has a completely different philosophy. Sessions sent directions to the district attorney’s offices telling them to get tough on crime and to utilize mandatory minimums to the full extent of the law.
Yes, we can agree, barriers are being raised. With that in mind, is now the best time for our “boldest and baddest” civil rights organization to let go of its top executive officer and go back to the drawing board?
“The NAACP intends to aggressively and nimbly respond to the current climate of political unrest, as well as the assaults upon human and civil rights that threaten our very democracy, as only it can. To do so demands that the Board of the NAACP ensure that the organization has the right plan and the right leadership to address these 21st-century challenges.”
Brooks Leaving Organization Sound
In an interview with columnist Hazel Trice Edney, President Brooks was quick to point out the NAACP’s recent success. In addition to 10 victories against voter suppression laws within the last year, including unjust North Carolina and Texas laws, Brooks pointed out a near double level growth in membership over last year and a rapid increase in social media followers.
During his administration, Brooks returned the organization to many of its radical strategies, a move he said energized civil rights activists and advocates. Brooks was arrested twice amidst civil disobedience strategies, namely sit-ins in the office of then ultra conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions. He even walked 800 miles in a “journey for justice” two years ago, and along the way engaged millennials and people from all walks of life.
Most recently, the NAACP advocated against conservative nominations by Trump, remained outspoken against police misconduct, and was involved in the Flint water crisis and voting rights among other issues.
“We’re in the Black, we’re visible, we’re vocal,” said Brooks, summarizing what he saw as the status of the agency.
From a Friend at Headquarters
Obviously that wasn’t enough for the new board and new board Officers who were just elected in February.
Kevin Myles, who works on the NAACP Staff as the Southeast Regional Director, is a Brooks reporter. Myles is the former president of the Wichita Branch NAACP and the Kansas State Organization of NAACP Branches. When I still couldn’t figure out what the plan, I gave Kevin a call.
To summarize his response, drastic times, require drastic measures, and these are drastic times.
“Right now, Steve Bannon – a member of the KKK – is the chief strategist for the United States,” said Myles.
The NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations have been in the trenches working, but they’re not getting the results, Myles exclaimed. With the current efforts of the NAACP and other Civil Rights organizations, things are
getting worse and we haven’t seen the bottom yet.
“Steve Bannon – a member of the KKK – is the chief strategist for the United States,” Myles pointed out. “We really need to take a good look at our strategies. We need some game changers.”
“That’s what this break is all about,” Myles concluded. “Finding a strategy that works against what’s coming at us now.”
Before it hires a new president, the organization announced that it will engage in a “listening tour” of its members for the first time in its history.
“In the coming months, the NAACP will embark upon a historic national listening tour to ensure that we harness the energy and voices of our grassroots members, to help us achieve transformational change, and create an internal culture designed to push the needle forward on civil rights and social justice,” said Derrick Johnson, vice-chairman of the NAACP board of directors.
In the wake of these announcements the naysayers were vocal. In an article that appeared in the “New York Times,” former MSNBC news anchor Melissa Harris-Perry called the NAACP ineffective. Her message to the organization was, “get out of the way and let the new younger groups take the lead.
In response to the NAACP’s plan to find a “new direction and focus,” she wrote, “That won’t solve the problem. Instead, it shows that its bloated 64-member board of directors has little understanding of why the NAACP has become marginal…. This stalwart of civil rights groups has become an entrenched bureaucracy.”
Of course, her comments set off a social media storm, with many people referencing the tensions that existed in the 1960s between the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Organizations like the NAACP have stood the test of time. A few years of recent activism can’t replace that. Twitter activists and hashtags are important, but they can’t take the place of organizations that have the bandwidth to organize on the ground nationally. There is no doubt that the NAACP can rethink their structure and tactics to have an increased level of impact, but Harris-Perry’s broad indictment against them is significantly flawed.
No one is arguing against multiple approaches, but don’t discard traditional approaches because someone else wants to go another route. Why do the NAACP, NAN, and other legacy civil rights organizations need to move aside as Harris-Perry suggested for other groups to emerge? We need all approaches.
In their retooling announcement, The NAACP — an organization that was slow to accept the LGBT community — expressed an interest in working with other groups.
the NAACP Board made it clear that everyone will have a place at the table, including its invaluable staff, the new movements for social change, local organizers helping to rebuild our neighborhoods, the faith leaders and other traditional and historic African-Americans organizations that provide much needed services to their communities, social justice advocates tackling income inequality, the millions of marchers who have taken to streets for women rights and immigrant rights, the activists who are fighting for equality for the LGBTQ Americans, business leaders and philanthropists lending private sector support, and the long-time civil rights guardians who have spilled blood so that we can enjoy the freedoms we have today.
In conclusion, their announcement read:
“These changing times require us to be vigilant and agile, but we have never been more committed or ready for the challenges ahead. We know that our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters expect a strong and resilient NAACP moving forward as our organization has been in the past, and it remains our mission to ensure the advancement of communities of color in this country,” said Russell, the chair.
Good luck NAACP.