ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia NAACP president Min. Rodney Muhammad with Yashpal S. Bains at the Philly is Charlottesville March on Broad Street on Wednesday night. (Photo: Solomon Williams)
By Minister Rodney Muhammad
We returned from an incredible national convention in a way forced to review the principles and true mission of the NAACP. Nothing is more refreshing than the oldest civil rights organization, challenging itself to be introspective, impactful and effective relating to principles and not personalities. The present time has brought a great deal of criticism on the NAACP. Some could be considered warranted, but I find some attacks as failing to consider factors both historical and current. The convention in Baltimore caused the NAACP to assert its right–like every other organization–to define itself, its goals and strategies.
Our theme for 2017 is “Steadfast and Immovable.” Steadfast means to be resolute and unwavering. This is an NAACP position against a country and government that is increasing its aggressiveness to set back gains and destroy progressive values in our society. However, we will also have to be steadfast against movements that are proving to have no design for achieving outcomes but only expressing outrage. The NAACP has long since abandoned slogans and protest as the only approach, though both are necessary components in a people’s struggle for justice and parity in a land where hardening attitudes and policies shaped by them are denying both. The second “A” in the acronym NAACP is for advancement. There are times in protracted struggle where advancement proves a lot more difficult, and we see civil rights gains being chipped away, so we adopt a position and decide that we shall not be moved. The present state of politics, the Presidency and current world climate is such a time.
The values that the NAACP stands for have not changed. If an organization advocates for justice, fights for equality and believes in progressive values now expressed by several groups, how does it become irrelevant? Because we are not dying in the streets, having our homes bombed, and our throats slit in the night, have we now become irrelevant? Now, because we have offices with fax machines and computers with email capability, we’re seen as bureaucratically absorbed and of no use to the movement. Churches are bureaucratic, with services ongoing, weddings, funerals, and counseling, yet are not considered irrelevant. Government and much of the way we live our lives is routine, yet is not called unnecessary.
We like many others having a long history should always revisit strategy and methods of approach, but a lot can be said for keeping your doors open nationwide for over a century without ever closing them. We should not forget that your life might not be in danger any longer for taking up membership in the NAACP, but the coast is only clear because the NAACP cleared the coast! We should not forget that the more blatant hatreds we see displayed before us today have a long history in America, and were given legal form and expression. The NAACP fought long and hard in the courts to destroy the legal basis for Jim Crow and segregation in this country.
The 1954 Supreme Court decision that segregation in public schools was deemed unconstitutional, literally set the south on fire in its quest for freedom and demand for equal rights. We made way for Black people to enter many higher institutions of learning, ended “all White” primaries in elections, even as long time Dr. Martin Luther King aide Andy Young said, “the NAACP laid the ground work for Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to begin the non-violent direct-action movement.” As recently as 2016, the NAACP won nine cases in court countering voter suppression. The services our 2,200 branches have provided, and the thousands of phone calls weekly to our branch offices make the case of irrelevancy moot.
We welcome constructive criticism, but not the argument that if you have a long existence, somehow your utility has worn out. Age brings wisdom — you cannot get in any other way. We can accommodate public calls to be more vigilant. However, outrage alone–or protest alone with no legal strategy for policy change — leaves one with satisfaction in getting angry, but never ridding society of the thing that produced the outrage. Even organizing boycotts — which was common between the 1940s through the 1960s — has all but been abandoned. We now have a public outcry for justice, while we carry on full cooperation with injustice. I celebrate my right to protest, but my protest is not a celebration. It must lead to something! What organization is demonstrating policy change in America that says to organizations like the NAACP to retire into the dustbin of history?
The NAACP at a time like this is sharpening its sword, refitting itself to the principles and values that have yet to be realized by society at large. Racial hatreds are at an all- time high, Supreme Court appointments, guarantee a dismantling of laws designed to protect progressive values. Laws established by the oldest civil rights organization in America, the NAACP.
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