We Shall Not Be Moved on Economic Justice

Your Take: An NAACP official responds to criticism that the rights group's focus needs updating.

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(Special to The Root) -- "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships."

Those were the words of W.E.B. Du Bois in 1903, six years before he co-founded the NAACP to ensure the "political, educational, social and economic equality of all citizens." For more than a century, the NAACP has made economic justice central to the struggle for civil rights.

In his latest piece on The Root, Jamal Simmons critiqued the NAACP for our upcoming national convention title, "We Shall Not Be Moved," a perceived lack of focus on economic issues and lack of vision and ingenuity in addressing these issues in the 21st century. As director of the NAACP Economic Department, I believe a brief review of the NAACP's long history and present efforts in fighting for economic justice is in order.

The NAACP has fought tirelessly for more than a century for economic equality. In the 1940s through the 1960s, the NAACP successfully fought against employment discrimination in the federal government. And in 1963 we co-organized the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, an event that had economic justice at its core, though this is often not remembered. 

In the latter 20th century, the NAACP was holding corporations accountable for their diversity in hiring and procurement. And we have continued this legacy in the 21st century with our recent relaunch of the NAACP's economic report cards on corporate diversity and inclusion. The first report card, released last year, graded the top hotels on their diversity practices and made recommendations for how the industry can create more jobs and wealth-building opportunities in communities of color.  

The NAACP has also taken a leadership role in dealing with predatory lending and the foreclosure crisis. We were among the first organizations to sue the national major banks for predatory lending in our communities and have developed fair-lending mortgage principles, which Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citibank and Chase Bank have all signed on to, and which we monitor through home-mortgage disclosure data.

Financial education is also at the center of the NAACP's contemporary economic work. We have hosted hundreds of economic workshops and webinars around money management, diversity and inclusion, wealth building, fair lending and entrepreneurship at the national, state and local levels. We connect thousands to Job Fairs and Financial Advocacy and Community Tours (which connect folks to local economic resources) nationwide. And just recently, we hosted the Good Jobs Green Jobs Preconference to discuss connecting people of color to the green economy.

I publish weekly financial education columns for BET.com and appear monthly on national and local radio and television discussing economic fairness and opportunity. And updates on our department's ongoing work are featured in our bimonthly newsletter, the Angle.

We recognize coalitions as fundamental to economically strengthening all Americans and partner with various economic organizations and communities. The NAACP helped coordinate the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, D.C.; NAACP North Carolina was recently a leading force in the fifth annual HK on J march in North Carolina; and the NAACP was a co-convener of the We Are One conference in Phoenix. At We Are One, we convened African-American and Latino leaders nationwide to discuss a progressive economic agenda that strengthens bonds between black and brown communities.

This year the NAACP commemorates the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Since the historic march, considerable gains have been made, but we cannot ignore the erosions in these gains: Racial economic inequality is at its highest in decades, with high black and brown unemployment, low homeownership rates and low wealth (pdf). 

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