NAACP National Field Director Stefanie Brown also directs the organization's Youth and College Division. She spoke to The Root at the 102nd NAACP Annual Convention in Los Angeles and explained why questions about the group's relevance are one of her pet peeves.
The Root: Does having a black president help or hinder progress on the issues that are affecting the black community the most?
Stefanie Brown: For numerous reasons, it helps to have a black president in that we can have … groups of color represented [by] the head of the country. That's always a positive thing. I also think that President Obama is keenly aware of issues that do impact the African-American community from more of a personal perspective.
But I think the thing to stress is that he's just one person. Right now we have no African Americans in the Senate, so it needs to go beyond just looking at the top position. We need to look at making sure there's diversity and inclusion throughout all the houses of government.
TR: What's the most important civil rights issue in our country today?
SB: I'm really under the belief that no one thing is more than the other because so much of it is cyclical. We can look at education and talk about how public school education is not nearly preparing our young people to be global leaders like they need to be, but then education or lack thereof ties directly into why we have higher incarceration rates of African Americans.
So I think so many of the issues really tie in with each other that you can't say just one is of the utmost importance.
TR: How is the NAACP still relevant in 2011?
SB: I hate the relevance question. I think mainly because in my position, I am able to see the great work that goes on across the country. I recognize that some people may have a different perspective of the organization based on where they are located.
So you can be in a city with a dormant branch and you think that the NAACP is not relevant, or you could be in a city or a state where they have constant levels of activity, they're pushing for social issues to be addressed, and to you they're very relevant in your life.
TR: How do you make activism important to young people who didn't experience the civil rights movement?
SB: The biggest thing is just tapping into what they're passionate about and what their feelings are. You have youth today who have gone through serious challenges … They've experienced inequality; they've experienced discrimination; they've experienced racism. It may not be in the same way as their forefathers, but it's just as serious, and it's just as real.
My job and the job of the NAACP is to train these young people to understand that once they have a feeling that something is wrong, how they can take those emotions and channel them into action to address and solve problems in their community.
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