Wickham: NAACP chief steps down to take next step
By DeWayne Wickham, USATODAY
When Ben Jealous announces Monday that he is cutting short his leadership of the NAACP, a big wave of disappointment, no doubt, will ripple across this nation’s civil rights community.
But the feeling of loss that many will have over the departure of the youngest person to ever lead the NAACP, America’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, will quickly turn to celebration if Jealous is as successful in his new venture as he has been at the NAACP’s helm.
While Jealous says his decision to leave the NAACP presidency—a position he assumed five years ago at the age of 35—is rooted largely in a desire to spend more time with his wife and two young children, he also plans to play an active role in the politics of his nation. He’s going to create an “EMILY’s List for people of color,” Jealous told me Saturday during a telephone interview.
But unlike EMILY’s List, a 28-year-old organization dedicated to electing pro-choice Democratic women to office, the political action committee Jealous envisions will not be so narrowly defined. He says he wants to change the nation’s political landscape by raising money to help elect a wider group of progressive candidates.
“It’s not altogether clear to me that every candidate to be supported is a Democrat,” said Jealous, who will leave the NAACP on Dec. 31, with nearly two years remaining on his contract. “The fact that civil rights has become a one-party affair is very dangerous to the cause of civil rights.”
Jealous believes that Southern black politicians such as Jacksonville, Fla., Mayor Alvin Brown, and Democratic Rep. Stacey Abrams, the House minority leader in Georgia’s legislature; and Hispanics such as San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro and his twin brother, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, are the front ranks of a new political force. This new wave of minority politicians, Jealous said, is a byproduct of the growth in the political participation of Southern blacks and an expanding number of young whites “who are not hung up on race.” Together, Jealous said, they will challenge the stranglehold conservatives have on the South.
Though it might take some time for the PAC he imagines to find black and Hispanic Republican candidates to embrace, its efforts could blur the dividing line in American politics. Already, the changing demographics in Virginia have helped turn that state from red to purple. And a PAC for candidates of color could, in a little more than a decade, transform Texas—where whites are now just 44.5% of the population—from a red to blue state.
For Jealous, creating a political PAC is no pipe dream.
During Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, Jealous teamed with Steven Phillips and Andrew Wong to create Vote Hope, a PAC that Jealous said raised $10 million to support the then long shot presidential campaign of the man who became this nation’s first black president.
“Our big victories derive from bold dreams,” Jealous told me. He was talking about the advances made by the NAACP under his leadership. He pointed to “five years of double-digit financial growth” for an organization that too often found itself making headlines for it shaky finances in the years before Jealous became president.
Jealous also touted the work the NAACP did on his watch to abolish the death penalty, end racial profiling and combat efforts to restrict the voting rights of blacks and other minorities.
“He put us on a sound financial footing and energized our membership,” said Roslyn Brock, who chairs the NAACP’s 64-member governing board.
But the PAC Jealous talked about is his boldest dream—and could well produce his biggest victories.
DeWayne Wickham writes on Tuesdays for USA TODAY.