Monday, May 19, 2008

Did The NAACP Finally Get Something Right?!?

Not that anyone's really noticed, but the NAACP's been asleep at the wheel since they ran off their most recent President, Bruce Gordon over a year ago. This weekend, the organization quietly introduced their new President, the oddly named Carlos Solis[1] Ben Jealous.

A 35-year-old human rights activist on Saturday was chosen to become the NAACP's new president and chief executive. Benjamin Todd Jealous, a graduate of Columbia University and a Rhodes scholar, will become the youngest leader in the 99-year history of the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People.

"I'm excited to take the helm of the NAACP," he said. "I believe in the urgent need for strong civil rights institutions and strong black institutions in general."

"I am tremendously excited. It's a real chance to get my generation of people — those from 25 to 45 years old — really engaged in the work of this association, and to get this association really engaged in the issues of this century," Jealous said. "This is an historic time and the association is needed, now as much as ever.

"As somebody raising a 2½-year-old black child in this country, and having enjoyed as many blessings and privileges as my wife and I have, it's still deeply troubling that we have to worry about how she might be treated in school or by the police. As parents, we want the best treatment for our child, without discrimination against any aspect of her life. That's what drives me."

The NAACP's 64-member board, however, was not united in its selection of Jealous. The vote, taken after an arduous eight-hour closed-door meeting that ended close to 3 a.m., came as some members complained that they were being shut out of the selection process.

He pointed to his youth as an asset in recruiting new members and said he thought he could work to create consensus among the board's various factions.
On the surface, I like this move for many reasons. Jealous is more or less my age, which means although he's obviously well accomplished, he isn't too far removed from the very youth the NAACP is going to need if it has any chance of staying alive, let alone regaining relevance. He comes with a background not only in activism, but also in media. He's already mentioning taking more proactive measures to increase the organization's effectiveness, as well as embracing technology, something the NAACP clearly hasn't a clue about. If you want proof, just spend a few minutes on their website trying to unearth anything of value. Simply finding ways to work with new-school "activists" like bloggers will go a long way towards pulling the organization into the 21st century.

On the flipside, I wonder if he isn't going to somehow flame out and fall out of favor with the organization's top heavy board of directors. Anytime you have to go through 64 people to get something done, you're bound to get frustrated. Speaking of which, other than to appease the egos of a lot of 70 year olds, why in the hell does the NAACP need 64 board members? What are they, the US Senate? The mere process of getting these folks to approve Jealous for the position was reportedly time consuming and quite contentious. I wonder how these graybeards are gonna react when he tells them they're gonna need Hotmail accounts.

Sadly, the bigger issue is the organization's direction. While his predecessors (Kwesi Mfume and Benjamin Chavis) faltered due to personal demons, Gordon blew it when he tried to use his experience as a corporate executive to push the organization towards social service rather than it's traditional platform of social justice. This was a good idea on paper. Had the NAACP moved forward with proactive initiatives like financial awareness and community investment seminars, perhaps the ravages of the recent economic downturn and the proliferation of predatory lending and subsequent foreclosures in the black community might have been lessened. We'll never know, since Gordon got canned for not bringing in enough corporate donations and generally pissing off the Board of Directors. So, here's to hoping Jealous' stint works out better.

I'm obviously in wait and see mode, but here's just some of what I'd like to see the NAACP focus on:

Think Proactively - Police shootings may get you in the papers, but they're around #158 on the list of Black Folks' Real Issues. Switch up your approach or you'll be about as useful as a truckload of Gregory Abbott's Greatest Hits LP's. Which is to say you'll be about as relevant as you are at the present. Which is "not so much". Comprendez?

Education Matters Most - Social justice doesn't mean sh*t if you're in jail because you can't read. Use your resources and exposure to do something about the institutional issues that contribute to the academic achievement gap. Encourage parents to do the rest.

Reach Out To Bloggers - Find ways of using the Black Blogosphere to push your new proactive initiatives. We can disseminate info far faster than any other medium. Consider strengthening ties with the Black Church as well, albeit for different reasons.

Become More Visible - I seldom see the NAACP in the media for anything other than justice issues. You do indeed do lots of proactive stuff, or so your website says. But how come I never see any of that stuff? I know the Urban League is more grassroots focused, but guess what? They're pretty visible. You're not. Fix this.

Make Membership Free - Freedom ain't free, but that's no excuse to charge folks $30 just to be down. $15 for starving college students? Hell, I see you're even hitting up prisoners for $12. Do you have any idea what having $12 in your commissary can buy you in the clink? Me neither, but it's beyond the point. I know you have financial issues, but c'mon, your pay-to-play approach is obviously not cuttin' it. Shake down your corporate donors more, trim your organizational fat, and focus on adding real people to your roles.

Kill The "Image Awards" - Any awards show that gives best-in-class kudos to Robert Sylvester Kelly, DL Hughley, and the child who played Baby Girl on The Bernie Mac Show has zero cred from the jump. Get rid of this useless circle jerk and save some money in the process.

Holler at me if you need more suggestions, Ben. You know where to find me.

I wish Mr. Jealous the best. I'll be his biggest cheerleader if this whole thing pans out.

And if it doesn't, I'll just keep on talkin' sh*t about the NAACP like I always do.[2]

Question: What practical steps can Ben Jealous and the NAACP take to become more relevant to the issues facing today's black community?

NAACP selects new leader: Benjamin Todd Jealous, 35 [LATimes]

[1] Yeah, I used to watch it. The show sucks now, but I did watch once or twice.

[2] Notice to anyone visiting for the first time. I don't just talk a good game, I actually do deliver. So please spare me the sideways comments unless you've checked this site out first.

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