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Reply to "Martin Lee Anderson -- Modern-Day Emmit Till"

Commentary: The NAACP's Goals - and Its Strategies to Achieve Them - Need to Be Updated and Upgraded

Date: Tuesday, March 27, 2007
By: Tonyaa Weathersbee,

Well, the new blood has been purged from the top of the nation's oldest civil rights organization – and with it another piece of its 21st century relevance.

And that's troubling.

This month Bruce S. Gordon quit as president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People after less than two years on the job. His resignation was especially surprising, considering that many believed the NAACP's decision to hire Gordon, a former Verizon executive, rather than drawing from its usual stable of ministers and activists, signaled a new turn towards dealing with the social and economic underpinnings of the new realities of racial oppression.

Turns out they were wrong.

Differences in vision ultimately cut a schism between Gordon, 61, and the board of the 98-year-old civil rights organization. Gordon wanted the NAACP to expand its role beyond civil rights advocacy to personal empowerment by focusing on things such as wealth-building, mentoring and counseling. Board members, on the other hand, opposed such a change, saying that the NAACP was about social justice, not social services.

"Social service organizations deal with effects of racial discrimination," Julian Bond, chairman of the NAACP board, told The New York Times. "We deal with the beast itself."

There's a lot to be said for dealing with the beast that is discrimination and racism. But at the same time, there's also a lot to be said for empowering black people so that they are less likely to succumb to habits that feed the beast.

Sounds like that's what Gordon was trying to do.

For example, we're all aware that people who are caught selling crack cocaine -- most of whom tend to be black -- get harsher sentences than powder cocaine sellers who tend to be white. That's discriminatory -- and the NAACP and other anti-discrimination organizations should continue to fight to end that disparity. And here in Florida, nearly a third of all those who cannot vote are black men with felony convictions -- making them prey to a racist law that disenfranchises them until they're able to get a hearing to get their civil rights restored.

That's wrong too -- and it usually takes the type of leadership provided by the NAACP that forces such situations to change.

Yet at the same time, black people would certainly advance more -- as per the mission of the NAACP -- if more had the will to refuse to be loyal customers of the criminal justice system and other pathologies that are used to keep them in a state of non-advancement.

And of course, one of the ways to make black men reject criminality as their only source of esteem is to talk economic and social empowerment.

If more black men, for example, knew how to navigate their way around this new, technologically-driven economy, more would cease to believe that their power lies in how much drugs they can sell and how many competitors they can kill.

If more young black women understood that one key to building wealth means holding off on having children while they are teenagers, then that helps to advance the race.

Now, I understand that the NAACP can't be all things to all people. And Bond and other board members have a point in not wanting the organization's mission to become muddled or duplicitous. Perhaps it may wind up doing some of the things that Gordon suggested.

But expanding its mission to deal with empowerment as well as advocacy would good for the NAACP. In fact, I'm almost certain it would help -- because aside from the exception of James Byrd's racially-motivated murder, voting irregularities and isolated cases of police brutality, there's not a lot about the NAACP's mission that gets black people fired up anymore -- hence its stagnant membership.

Here's hoping that in the future, the NAACP board and who ever leads it will not only be able to agree on the goal of black people's advancement, but on the strategy as well.

One that involves more new ways to starve that old beast called discrimination and inequality.

Or to slay it altogether.