Where is the NAACP going?
Actor Jeffery Wright, left, and NAACP President Benjamin Jealous (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
At 36 years-old Benjamin Todd Jealous is the youngest person to ever lead the NAACP. As he presented his opening speech at the 100th Anniversary Celebration yesterday, the dichotomy of his age against that of the organization’s was indicative of its current state. The NAACP is an organization deeply rooted in history, desperately trying to redefine itself in a culture ever shaped by the young.
Some 5,000 plus members gathered in New York City for the beginning of the centennial celebration of the NAACP. Opening remarks were careful to outline the rich and triumphant history of the organization; a history that is responsible for tearing down racial barriers and tirelessly fighting for civil rights.
“We’ve come along way,” said Benjamin Jealous. But where is the NAACP going?
Jealous went on to highlight the pervasive amount of racial profiling that still exists in America today as the NAACP’s next cause. He made it clear that judicial disparities and the prison industrial complex were at the forefront of the issues that the NAACP is looking to tackle next. As Jealous outlined the history of racially motivated arrest and sentencing practices back to President Nixon’s “tough on crime” campaign, he said, “the only thing that beats tough and stupid is smart and safe.”
Later, with critically acclaimed actor Jeffrey Wright by his side (who was himself the victim of police injustice last year in Shreveport, LA while wrapping up his role in the film “W”); Jealous unveiled the NAACP’s “Smart and Safe” campaign to assist in reporting, recording and fighting against police brutality throughout the nation.
Still, the tone of the centennial conference was unclear. Despite Jealous’ demands that “the system of injustice must be turned in to a system of justice,” the sole issue of police misconduct seemed unlikely to revitalize the aging NAACP.
In a speech later that day, the nation’s first Black Attorney General, Eric Holder declared, “The next century will be less about changing our laws than it will be about changing ourselves.” He declared to right the judicial wrongs that disproportionately affect Blacks but went on to heavily stress personal accountability and aggressive parenting as ways to affect change within the Black community. As his speech went on, the direction of the NAACP became increasingly uncertain.
Holder said that the legacy of the NAACP’s founders lives on in the “opportunity to seek and now to win the highest office in the land.” And yet in this President Obama era, questions about the organization’s relevance are stronger than ever.
Holder concluded by saying “let us promise our children and our grandchildren another century of remarkable progress.” The crowd stood their feet in applause, but likely very few had a strong idea of what that truly meant.