The NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, has named Cornell William Brooks its 18th president and chief executive officer. The New Jersey-based civil rights lawyer, human rights activist and ordained minister, replaces interim leader Lorraine C. Miller, who filled the vacancy created by Benjamin Jealous’ departure at the end of 2013.
“With a flood of attacks on our right to vote, growing gaps in education and health equality and a broken criminal justice system,” Roslyn Brock, chairman of the NAACP’s national board, told The Root Saturday during a phone interview about the announcement. “We believe that attorney Brooks is the right person at the right time to help us harness the power of our 2,200 NAACP units across the country as we continue to advance our mission.”
Brooks, who also spoke to The Root, called himself a “servant leader.” He plans to spend the next few months on a listening tour of the organization. He is slated to take up his post in July, when he will be officially introduced to the NAACP organization at its convention.
“As someone who is a serious student of the freedom struggles of this country and abroad, I bring to the task a scholarly commitment without necessarily having any particular scholarly pretensions,” he said. “I think the best thing that can be said is that if I’m effective at communicating and inspiring, it’s because I work really really hard at listening and learning as much as I can about the people that I’m charged with serving.”
For the past six years, Brooks has served as president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, where he has worked on legislation related to prison reentry and to foreclosures. Some of that work involved a partnership with the NAACP. The South Carolina native has been a member of the NAACP since college. As a civil rights lawyer, he has worked with NAACP branches on fair housing litigation. He is also a former attorney for the Federal Communications Commission.
Besides the ongoing fight over voting rights, Brooks commented on a number of other issues facing the NAACP, including Saturday’s 60th anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.
Resegregation of schools
“As a graduate of both Yale Law School and Head Start, I am an heir, beneficiary, a grandson of Brown v. Board of Education. My entire life and the arc of my professional career are a direct result of the blood, sweat and tears of the NAACP. So today, I am profoundly mindful of how much I owe the association and how much I owe the country in receiving this great opportunity.”
“When we think about the fact that the level of segregation in this country is about the level it was in 1968, it underscores the necessity for the NAACP.”
Relevance to a younger generation