Tuesday, February 10, 2009

6430: NAACP 2.0.


100 years old, NAACP considers its future

By Marisol Bello, USA TODAY

Gloria Briggs never felt much connection to the NAACP until the Seattle school district proposed closing her 12-year-old son’s school this year, one of five closings in minority neighborhoods.

Briggs, 37, joined the Seattle branch of the NAACP to protest, file complaints and make plans to sue.

“I see now why we have the NAACP,” she says. “They were on it, hosting community meetings … They helped pull us together.”

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a powerhouse of the civil rights movement in the past century, is today a triage center for local battles over school inequities, police shootings, racial profiling and rising foreclosures.

Thursday, the organization marks its centennial as it works to remain relevant in the era of the nation’s first black president.

Today, the NAACP has 250,000 paid members and 225,000 donors. At its height in 1964 — 10 years after its landmark case, Brown v. Board of Education, desegregated schools — there were 600,000 members.

“People are ready for us to be fully engaged across the country,” says NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous, who took over in September.

The group is suing 15 banks, alleging that predatory lending that precipitated the foreclosure crisis targeted blacks. It is scrutinizing police shootings in five states, including the killing early New Year’s Day of an unarmed reveler by a transit officer in Oakland.

John Powell of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University says the NAACP needs to consider the mission of one of its founders, W.E.B. Du Bois, who advocated economic rights. “What groups like the NAACP have traditionally done is good, but it is too narrow,” he says. “The world has changed.”

Air Force reservist Nichole King-Campbell, 37, says the Prince George’s County, Md., NAACP is too low-key, surprising because two-thirds of the population is black. It doesn’t even have a website, she says, and hasn’t attracted young people.

“It has a brand,” she says. “It should be a powerful force.”

Chapter President June White Dillard says her group has been active on voter registration and after a police-slaying suspect died in police custody.

Dorothy McClendon, 59, of Gulfport, Miss., is one of four Gulf Coast residents, led by the NAACP, suing HUD for allowing the state to spend some of its federal Katrina funds on rebuilding the Port of Gulfport instead of on poor residents.

McClendon, who is on disability and has an income of $13,200 a year, has been living in a FEMA trailer that will be removed this month.

“The NAACP has a strong voice,” she says, “and it’s going to take something like that for something to happen for us.”

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