ABOVE PHOTO: Cornell William Brooks
By Jesse J. Holland
WASHINGTON— NAACP President Cornell William Brooks will not be returning as the leader of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization after his contract expires this summer, officials said Friday.
Brooks has been the NAACP’s leader since 2014 but will not be kept on past June 30, the end of his current term. NAACP Board Chairman Leon W. Russell and Vice Chair Derrick Johnson will lead the organization until a new president is selected.
Russell and Johnson announced what they described as a “transformational, system-wide refresh and strategic re-envisioning” for the NAACP in a Friday evening conference call with reporters.
“We understand and appreciate the historic model of protest, but at this point in time we believe as an organization we need to retool to become better advocates, better at educating the public, better at involving them in our operation” and better at legislation and litigation, Russell said.
Russell, who was made the Baltimore-based organization’s board chairman in February, praised Brooks’ leadership and said the NAACP remained at the forefront of civil rights activism in the United States.
“However, modern-day civil rights issues facing the NAACP, like education reform, voting rights and access to affordable health care, still persist and demand our continued action,” he said.
A national search for a new leader was expected to begin this summer.
In addition, the NAACP planned to embark on a “listening tour” this summer to solicit input on how the organization should reinvent itself.
Brooks, the NAACP’s 18th national president, replaced interim leader Lorraine Miller. Miller had served in that position since Benjamin Jealous ended his five-year tenure in 2013.
Brooks, a minister, is originally from Georgetown, South Carolina. It was not immediately known what his future plans were.
The NAACP found itself battling for attention from Black youth with groups like Black Lives Matter, which rose to prominence behind street-level protests after the killings of African-American men and women by police, including 18-year-old Michael Brown at the hands of a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
Catherine Flowers, founder of the Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise, an organization that advocates for poor and black people living in rural areas, said she wasn’t surprised at the coming change.
“I would like to see more of a grassroots effort” by the NAACP, she said. “Clearly, on a national level we’re at a crisis, and it calls for a new kind of leadership.”
Brooks also has his fans. Ernest L. Johnson Sr., president of the NAACP Louisiana State Conference, invited Brooks to visit Baton Rouge less than a week after a White police officer shot and killed a Black man during a struggle outside a convenience store last year. Videos of Alton Sterling’s July 5 shooting quickly spread on social media, setting off nightly protests in Louisiana’s capital.
Johnson said Brooks met with Sterling’s relatives. During a rally outside Baton Rouge’s City Hall, he said he was tired of victims of police shootings being treated as “hashtag tragedies” instead of human beings mourned by their families.
“He brought some young energy to this 108-year-old organization,” Johnson said. “He’s very energetic. Whenever we needed him in the state of Louisiana, he came to Louisiana.”