Credited with boosting finances at civil rights organization
By Brett Zongker
WASHINGTON — The next president of the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights group needs to be energetic, charismatic and willing to make a personal sacrifice, NAACP leaders say.
The group’s board is beginning its search for a successor to outgoing President and CEO Benjamin Jealous, who announced this week that he will step down at the end of the year. The NAACP board is forming a search committee and plans to meet in late October to plan for the leadership change.
“My concern is identifying somebody who is energetic, familiar with this digital age and new technology, and, more importantly, who is able to go and continue to energize our thousands of chapters, or units as we call them, throughout this country,” said board member Ernest Johnson of Louisiana.
Leading a group with 64 board members and a long history is a job that requires a unique set of skills.
“First, you have to realize it’s not a job — it’s a lifestyle, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said board member Kamilia Landrum of Detroit. “You are representing and living for the movement. The pressure is hard. Every word you say is in the public eye. You have to be almost Baptist preacher, corporate America, or father and husband at the same time.”
After suffering turbulent leadership changes and scandals in the past, the NAACP board is determined to have a smooth transition this time.
Chairman Roslyn Brock said the group plans to continue fighting for voting rights, health care, a higher minimum wage and immigration reform, among other issues.
“The NAACP is alive, and it’s well,” Brock said. “The work goes on, and there’s so much for us to do.”
Perhaps no one understands the challenges the next president will face better than Jealous himself. The job is unique in its intensity, Jealous said Monday, because “you commit to work 24/7/365 and spend half your year on an airplane and every minute working to advance the cause of civil and human rights.”
In a written statement to The Associated Press, Jealous vowed the transition to a new leader would be orderly and planned.
When he was hired for the job in 2008, Jealous became the group’s youngest-ever leader at the age of 35.
Under Jealous, the group worked to abolish death-penalty laws in at least four states, opposed “stop-and-frisk” police tactics and stand-your-ground laws following the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and embraced gay rights in an historic 2012 vote.
Donations have increased from $23 million in 2007 — the year before Jealous was hired — to $46 million in 2012, he said. The group also said its donors have increased from 16,000 people giving each year to more than 132,000.
“I think we need someone who appreciates that this is a long-term race that we have to be in … that the NAACP is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic organization. We don’t want to be a black organization,” Brock said.
“I think that individual would also have to be someone who resonates with young people, young activists across the country,” Brock said.
Former NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said the group’s biggest challenge going forward will be finding “someone — some man, some woman — who can carry the banner as Ben Jealous did and carry us onward and further onward to greater and greater victories,” Bond said.
“We want somebody who would be as vibrant and as energetic as he or she possibly can,” Bond said.
Several board members agreed that the job takes a toll.
Jerry Mondesire, the head of the Philadelphia NAACP and a national board member, said friction between Jealous and Brock may have led to the former’s early departure.
“I think the combination of the strain on his family, and the ongoing friction, he decided to exit earlier,” said Mondeshire, adding that he was a critic of Jealous at first but that he was won over by Jealous’ fundraising and modernization of the NAACP.
Brock said she is not aware of any tension that drove Jealous out.
“As with any organization, you’re never going to have, with a 64-member board, everyone in agreement on any one issue at any given time,” she said.
Brock said the board devised a strategic plan with Jealous to guide the group for years to come.
“An organization that is 104 years old, it can’t be really about one person doing the job,” she said. “It has to really lie within the hearts and minds of those who believe in the mission.”
Jealous has been praised for boosting the organization’s finances and helping to stabilize it. In the year before Jealous arrived, the NAACP cut its national staff by a third because of what a spokesman described at the time as several years of falling fundraising revenues. Also that year, former NAACP President Bruce Gordon abruptly resigned after clashes with the group’s board.
The 40-year-old Jealous says he wants to spend more time with his family, teach at a university and start a political action committee focused on promoting black and Latino candidates, along with progressives of all races.