NAACP celebrates past as new leader looks to future

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In an age when the Supreme Court may soon see its first Latina justice — nominated by the nation’s first African-American president — some are asking about the relevance of an organization whose very name calls for the “advancement of colored people.” The NAACP is marking its centennial this year by tackling those questions head-on.

As the NAACP celebrates 100, its new young leader takes center stage.

Ben Jealous is 36 — just the 17th person to lead this organization steeped in history and tradition. He is the biracial son of a white father and black mother, an Ivy league grad and a Rhodes scholar.

He is the former head of a black newspaper association, who later led a human rights foundation. And now, is trying to win the NAACP’s trust.

Jealous’s age is one reason he was choosen to re-brand and re-invigorate an organization that first met in this hall here in New York a century ago. It has a proud history, but an uncertain future.

With an African American in the White House and many discrimination battles won the question is whether the NAACP is still necessary.

“We fight for good schools, we fight for good jobs, we fight for safe communities for everybody,” Jealous said. “We outlawed racial profiling and the death penalty in New Mexico. We are working for major reforms in the criminal justice system in Kansas and California.”

He has tried to do that by recruiting young activists. More than half a million people belong, most over 50 years old, but the fastest growing group is under 25.

Jealous says the battle now is to close the social and economic achievement gap between people of color and mainstream America. It’s a fight for justice and equality he insists must be carried on.