Because of a lack of understanding and information about what the NAACP does, a lot of the people who are keeping some of the branches open are folks’ mothers’ age, or grandmothers’ age, and it’s because they learned in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s how important this organization is to American society, and they won’t be moved. But they’re encouraged by having younger people come in.
Another of the myths about the NAACP is that we’re a black organization. We’re not. We’re a multicultural, multiracial organization that believes in advancing a democratic — with a small “d” — society of fairness, equity and justice.
TR: Has your recent activism in the arenas of stop and frisk and marriage equality helped to gain the interest of a younger and more progressive group of people?
RB: Yes; [activism against the New York City Police Department’s policy of] stop and frisk was one of the key accomplishments that helped us bring a broad-based group of people … together. And I think our stance on marriage equality helped to show that we’re a progressive organization.
That’s another myth: that some might think we’re not progressive, or that we kind of stayed back in the old days. But our ability to push the envelope is not only marriage equality — it’s environmental justice, for example. Many don’t know that we have a very robust emerging program around climate change and economic justice in communities of color.
Also, we have white Americans who are presidents of our local branches, of our local college chapters, and we’re doing a good job of widening our net of black and brown, yellow and others to come to the NAACP, because we believe that “colored” people come in all colors, and our cause is not a black cause; it is an American cause.
TR: Do the group of people at this year’s summit reflect that diversity?
RB: We’ve extended invitations to those [nonblack] people to come, but they may not accept because they think, “Oh I’m just gonna be around a bunch of black people,” not really appreciating and understanding what we are. But we’re going to continue to ask, little by little. When you look at our staff, you see that, and we’re looking to [increase racial diversity] also on our board. But we have to do more — you have to practice what you preach.
We need to dispel the myths that we’re aging, that we’re mired in the past and that we’re black-only. Those are the selling points for us for a new progressive generation.
Jenée Desmond-Harris is The Root’s staff writer. Follow her on Twitter.