Thursday, February 12, 2009

NAACP Turns 100

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the founding of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Founded February 12, 1909, the NAACP is one the largest and most well recognized grassroots civil rights organizations in the United States and the world. The organization was founded by about 60 people, seven of whom were African-Americans and included Ida B. Wells, and W.E.B. Du Bois in response to lynchings and riots in Abraham Lincoln's home state of Illinois. The founding of the organization was set to coincide with the birthday of President Abraham Lincoln. The focus of the organization since its inception has been to foster civil rights and fight for equality mostly for individuals of African-American descent. However, lately there has been some dissent in the African-American community over the organization's focus, with calls made to change the focus to one that encourages economic development and progress to aid African-Americans who are trapped in a cycle of poverty.

In 2004, Kweisi Mfume resigned his position as president of the organization after serving for nine years. He was replaced by Bruce Gordon, who left the position after only 19 months at the helm. Gordon came to the organization after many years of service in corporate America. His vision was to transform the organization from one that was primarily focused on fighting injustice to one that championed economic empowerment. He was unable to do so because he had to contend with an unweilding board comprised of 64 members, most of whom differed in opinion when matters of the organization's direction arose. Although many critics had suggested that Gordon wouldn't be a good fit for the organization and rightfully so, he was instrumental in restoring the relaitonship of the organization with the White House. When President George W. Bush assumed office he broke tradition by refusing to address the organization, making him the first President since Herbert Hoover to turn down an invitation to speak at the organization. The organization is currently headed by Benjamin Jealous who succeeded Gordon.

Crticism of the group is not without merit. The group ranks as one of the lowest rated charities with the highest paid executives. Also, I question the relevance of the organization today. The most visible participation of the organization comes in form of the NAACP Image Awards which honors African-Americans for their achivement. It is possible the organization is making positive change, but the visibility is not over arching. While the group has other civic functions and roles it plays in the community, it is fair to say that the issues that are relevant to African-Americans today are on the organization's back burner. There are still issues of poverty, increasing high school drop out rates, teenage pregnacy, and other social issues in the community which seem to be worsening. I am not placing the onus of fixing our ailing inner cities on the organization, but the organization has failed in its duties and instead become another social hub that has as its most visible role organizing luncheons and dinners for the rich and famous to fraternize, while those who need the aid watch in awe.

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