I have heavily critiqued the NAACP.
I’ve spoken about how it feels very much disconnected from my generation and I’ve watched as local chapters hold press conferences about ridiculous and frivolous issues. The nation’s oldest civil rights group to me seemed stagnant—Just a bunch of old Black folks being old and Black and not growing with the times. Yes, of course there were some places where the NAACP was still doing good work but I scoffed at it being genuinely relevant anymore.
So when my co-host L. Joy Williams — an active member of the NAACP’s Brooklyn branch — wanted to invite the National NAACP’s chairperson on to our radio show, I half-heartedly agreed and told her don’t get mad if I say something she doesn’t like. Chairman Roslyn Brock appeared on “Blacking It Up” January 23, 2012, and when I thought I was pushing back on her and the organization she pushed back on me. She challenged me directly. She asked me if I was a member of the NAACP? If I had issues with it, why not join and voice them from within?
Why not work with them?
It wasn’t as if I hadn’t considered it before. At Netroots Nation in 2010 during the Black Caucus, the idea of “infiltrating” the NAACP was discussed by a group of very engaged Blacks who felt disconnected to the organization — but I personally didn’t follow up on that threat. The closest I came to joining was when they issued the resolution that there were racist elements in the Tea Party—which at first I thought was silly. But when the declaration caused some members of the Tea Party to respond with racism, I realized that it was sort of a brilliant move. Then within a week or two of that high profile checkmate, the Shirley Sherrod incident occurred and I crossed my arms and said “SEE.”
But as I spoke to the Chairman issuing a direct challenge to me, I felt as if I couldn’t just blow it off. If you’re going to talk smack about organizations you have to also be willing to stand up when asked. The historic nature of the NAACP can never be overstated. And with the challenge the chairman also invited me down to their annual Leadership 500 summit, a 4 day meeting of the minds discussing the path and focus of the organization.
That’s where I’m writing from now.
See Live Coverage of The NAACP 8th Annual Leadership 500 Summit, “Protecting our BMW’s – Black Men Walking,” here.
In the first full day there have been panels and discussions on a wide range of topics. There are people here that I wasn’t aware of before, like Shavon Arline Bradley, Director of Health Programs for the NAACP, who are speaking passionately and brilliantly about many issues that are plaguing our time in America. She came on “Blacking It Up” and dropped one of the scariest statements I’ve ever heard. When explaining the importance of universal healthcare and the actions that we have to take in order to make sure communities have access to fresh food and vegetables she said:
“This generation is the first one that may not live past their parents.”
Another one of my co-hosts, Aaron Rand Freeman had seen Bradley at an earlier panel and couldn’t heap enough praise on her. He was impressed by her knowledge and passion beyond belief. I mention him specifically because Aaron isn’t the type to get excited about conferences or speakers at said conferences. He’s not the type to want to join organizations like the NAACP. Yet after sitting around at the summit and observing it, he was not only excited, he was amazed. This was the NAACP people like myself and many others rarely get to see.
In recent weeks the media focus has been primarily on their recent stance on marriage equality for LGBT Americans, but there’s so much more going on. This civil rights group may be the oldest in the nation but the next generation of leaders are joining and stepping up to deal with the current civil rights issues of the day. Voter Id Laws, Healthcare, Drug laws—all of these are being dealt with head on. I thought to myself “I wish I heard more about this side of the NAACP.”
Then I realized maybe I should stop complaining and show this side of the NAACP.