Ben Jealous Talks to Henry Louis Gates Jr.

The outgoing NAACP president speaks to The Root's editor-in-chief about his decision to step down.

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BTJ: The greatest defeat was the first strategic plan -- three months later they weren't sure that they had actually agreed to it, and I had to play a tape. Fortunately we had recorded the vote, and I played the vote. At the same time, when you have to play a vote to convince someone that they agreed to a strategic plan, that strategic plan is already DOA. So at that point, I was just making a point that I had a good memory.

The biggest victory was the second strategic plan, which we went through a much longer, intentional consultative process, and it has really stuck.

HLG: And probably the greatest failure, unfortunately, in the history of the NAACP is the failure to persuade the Congress to adopt a federal anti-lynching law.

BTJ: Yes, that's exactly right. And in some ways we've actually made up for that now with the James Byrd-Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Bill, which was in many ways the realization of that dreams almost 95 years after it was first created.

But to your point, right, we just never give up. What I said to people [is] we have to identify the bold dreams of this century because it's our bold dreams that are the key to our victory. If the dream is big enough, it will sustain us through all of the losses and we'll galvanize generation after generation to do whatever they have to do to win. And that's what those game changers represent.

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 HLG: So the board will select your successor. And your successor, she or he will come to you if they have any sense for advice. And so, if your successor says to you, "Ben, what do you think are the major challenges facing our organization over the next decade?" And the corollary would be what are the impediments to addressing those challenges. How would you answer?

BTJ: When the board selects my successor, I'll tell them that the most important things that I did to prepare for this success were to make sure the operations were strong, that the organization was financially healthy and that the team has a deep bench of leadership at the national headquarters so that they can come in and run at a marathoner's pace.

They'll be coming in after the recession has begun to heal; they'll be coming in with our revenue back at a new all-time high; they'll be coming back with all of our regional offices reopened and all of our programs reopened. And most importantly, they'll be coming in with a re-energized team that exists between the regional and national offices to pursue these game changers that we've identified over the past five years.

So what I'll say to them is what Ben Hook said to me: Don't try to make any big changes for the first five years, because it's going to take that long for you to hit your stride. Instead, invest your time in getting to know the organization from coast to coast, and border to border. Invest your time in helping the units win battles state after state. Invest your time in getting to know your peers. And plan to be here for a long time because at the start of this generation having rebuilt the national operations of the NAACP -- when we picked you -- the organization picked someone to be a marathon runner, and that's what we need from you right now.

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