In its ongoing effort to reinvent itself, one of the nation’s oldest civil rights organizations took a slightly new approach in hearing from the the people on how to push the Black community forward.
The NAACP concluded its seven-city listening tour on Monday, Dec. 4 in Washington, D.C., at the Dorothy I. Height Library in Northeast declaring strongly that they’re interested in implementing the community’s input.
“This is a listening tour and that is essential for you to understand, we are not here to make speeches to you,” said NAACP National Chairman Leon Russell. “The idea is we need to reimagine our association and in order to do that we need to hear from the people that we serve. We want to give you an opportunity to talk to us.”
Russell contended that the NAACP has worked for the past six years to dive deeper into issues such as education, health care, civic engagement, economic sustainability, criminal justice and youth empowerment, but he needs to know from the people are those the right things they ought to have as priorities.
“Within those things, what are the issues that we need to deal with specifically?” he posed to the audience. “What would help to carry out that mission in those specific areas? How do we as an organization work with other folks, in fact who are those other folks we ought to be working with? Who should we be partnering with to carry out that mission? Where do we go from here, is the real question. What should we be looking to accomplish in 30 to 60 days, 180 days, 365 and longer. That’s our mission this evening. We are going to look to you to give us those ideas.”
Newly-minted President and CEO Derrick Johnson believes that the NAACP has to take control of how the organization presents itself to the public.
“Every time we go through a transition the question of relevancy comes up, as I look at the organization, and I’ve served on a state level and now national, no one exists the way we do, no one has penetrated the way we have,” Johnson said. “What we have not been able to do is define our narrative and tell our story. In fact as a people and as a community we’ve had so many successes that we don’t value it until someone else tries to own it like the Blues.
“We are a membership based advocacy organization, but often times we lose the fact that we are an advocacy organization and not service,” he said.
Johnson asserted that advocacy sets policy that affects everyone’s lives and service organizations provides services.
“A soup kitchen is very important to feed the homeless, but as the NAACP, we establish public policy so that no one is hungry. People ask us why don’t we have more mentorship programs, but that’s not our role — our role is to advocate for public policy so that people have what they need.”
The tour comes as part of the organization’s strategic plan to enhance its vision and mission, and to renew its commitment to the fight for civil rights amid an increasingly hostile political climate, voter suppression, income inequality, mass incarceration, police brutality and anti-immigrant sentiments.
The NAACP’s national leadership kicked off the tour after its 108th Convention visiting cities and towns across the country including Detroit, Niagara Falls, Los Angeles, Nashville, Des Moines and San Antonio.
With critical midterm elections this past November and the 2020 presidential race already on the radar, Johnson had a message for Black voters.
“How many people have purchased RC Cola this week versus Coke?,” Johnson asked. “That’s what were dealing with with these elections. Presidential elections are like the Coca-Cola ad budget. There is a multimillion-dollar ad budget in reminding people that there is an election. So then that happens, voter turnout goes up. Then midterm elections is like the RC Cola ad budget for elections. [Voter turnout] goes down.”
Johnson said that they are seeing across the country that when the ad budget goes up Black folks hit a very high voter count.
“In some areas we are double-digit outperforming our white counterparts,” he said. “At the NAACP, we have to figure out along with you a better mechanism to encourage our folks to vote during midterm and local elections, because that’s where the power is. The power is in local governments and state governments and that’s where we need to show up.”