Black people have fared best when our collective interests and goals are held paramount. We’ve made the greatest headway when our assumed leaders are guided by principles of self-sacrifice above self-aggrandizement. I pray that we have the wisdom to remember and embrace these lessons learned “over a way that with tears has been watered…through the blood of the slaughtered.”
Since 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has been the most recognized and venerated civil rights organization in the US. Most Americans respect and admire the NAACP. Those of us 50 years old and above remember that, when intervening in civil rights matters, the NAACP often mitigated outcomes of interracial conflict to the benefit of (usually) maligned Black victims.
Perception of irrelevancy
It’s said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” A lapse of time often adds to that contempt. Among others than “the faithful,” the NAACP’s reputation as a relevant player in the civil rights arena had diminished. This perception was especially true among youth who were more likely to ask the question, “What have you done for me lately?”
While I am a life member and I’ve always seen the relevance of the NAACP, many thought the organization had moved close to being irrelevant. Several episodes of questionable leadership did little to rehabilitate its reputation. For many, that changed in May 2014 with the selection of Rev. Cornell William Brooks as NAACP president/CEO.
Lacking the bravado and ostentatiousness of many leaders of our community, Rev. Brooks came to the job as an experienced civil rights professional.
A fourth-generation AME minister and Yale-trained civil rights lawyer, Rev. Brooks was eminently qualified and well-focused on directing the activities of the NAACP to meet contemporary imperatives.
Three years ago, he inherited a staff demoralized by layoffs and uncertain funding. Now, across-the-board fundraising is up and he had begun hiring additional staff to conduct the organization’s business.
Rev. Brooks has led the NAACP with purpose, dignity and skillful determination. His “hands-on, lead by example” approach to activism has inspired a new generation of youth to pick up the mantle of the NAACP. We have seen substantial participation and increased membership of young people. Youth were constantly seen with Rev. Brooks demonstrating consistent, targeted action and participation in activities that gave renewed meaning to the concept of peaceful and intelligent resistance to injustice.
A real leader
Rev. Brooks is not a lip-service leader. Except for being called away for related obligations, he walked every step of the two marches he organized between from Ferguson to Jefferson City, Mo., and from Selma, Ala., to Washington, D.C. He and the marchers became targets of racist snipers in Missouri and he remains under threat by domestic terrorists who would love nothing more than to stop his work.
Rev. Brooks’ testimony against the confirmation of Jeff Sessions was topped only by his sit-in and arrest in the Birmingham offices of then-Senator Sessions. He gave national attention to the fact that the NAACP was once again a genuine player in the fight against injustice. This revitalized NAACP attracted a new following and, accordingly, online memberships increased significantly.
For individuals and institutions alike, longevity can mistakenly be assumed to be the same as indispensability. Logic should inform that the only foundation of indispensability is in the sustainment of relevance. Under Rev. Brooks, the NAACP escaped the image of doing little and existing in outdated ineptitude to a state of true relevance.
Sadly, the NAACP Executive Board has chosen to take a step backward by not renewing Rev. Brooks’ contract. I pray that decision will be reversed.
Rev. Brooks was the right leader when he was chosen and remains the right leader for our challenging times. The board should reverse its ill-advised decision.
Dr. E. Faye Williams is national chair of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc. Contact her via www.nationalcongressbw.org.