This afternoon the NAACP elected its youngest board chair in history: health care advocacy professional Roslyn Brock.
Though only 44 years old, the native Floridian is already a 25-year veteran of the civil rights organization. Most recently NAACP vice chair, Brock is a protégé of the outgoing chairman, civil rights legend Julian Bond.
Bond is passing the baton to a woman who understands where the 100-year-old group needs to go, says NAACP CEO, Benjamin Jealous. She can expect strong support from her predecessor. "Julian walks on every day with the heart of a SNCC organizer," explains Jealous. "He understands better than anybody the importance of having young people in decision-making positions in the modern civil and human rights movements. It's no coincidence that he presided over the hiring of the youngest CEO and the election of the youngest chair in the history of the association."
On the eve of her election, Brock sat down with The Root. She shared her thoughts about the organization's move to younger leadership, her assessment of Jealous' performance, and the recent media pressure on the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
How will your tenure differ from that of Chairman Julian Bond?
It's a generational shift….I'm more focused on how to recruit new members who are working in corporate America, the nonprofit sector and the political environment, and get them reinterested in a 100-year-old brand of the NAACP that their mothers or grandmothers may or may not have told them about.
Our parents and grandparents fought so hard for better social and economic opportunity that they didn't want to remember the back of the bus or the separate but unequal water fountains, or the degrading treatment that they experienced. They wanted a better life for their children, and may not have shared that history, those experiences, and the depth of hurt that came with struggle and progress.
So you have young people now who believe that the NAACP is a relic, and the black and white photos of the past. You need to tell the story, so that you can affirm that true progress has been made in this nation as it relates to race relations and how individuals of color are treated, but then [there's] a recognition as well that the problems have not been solved fully….
We have the first president of African descent who's in the White House, but he's only one black man in one house. There's so many other African American men who are absent from houses. They're in the penal system, or they're unemployed, or they're drug abusers. We have to speak to their issues.
You will be the youngest board chair in an organization that skews older. What challenges do you see in the generational shift?
For those who were actively involved in the civil rights movement, it's probably the [challenge] of letting go, and the handoff….I'm so honored that both that current chairman of the board, Julian Bond, and the former chair emeritus Myrlie Evers-Williams, and former executive director Benjamin Lawson Hooks, have all endorsed my candidacy….They have tutored me, they have invested in me, and have mentored me to a place where they have passed the baton. In this moment I believe they are holding onto it, [all] of us together, until I get a firm grip on it and they are then willing to let go…. They've done that just 18 months ago in the hiring of a 35-year-old CEO, Ben Jealous, and now potentially at the cusp of a 44-year-old woman, a post-Baby Boomer, to lead the organization.
I think he's doing a great job. He's getting his feet underneath him, navigating through understanding board politics and understanding the culture of the NAACP, but also trying to be timely and relevant and address needs. So much is happening now with the home foreclosures and the education system, and then also with rising hate crimes in our nation….I think he's doing a pretty good job considering the backdrop of all he's having to juggle.
What do you think of the recent New York Times piece on the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation?
It's interesting to me how our traditional organizations are under assault for their relevancy, but it makes organizations more tough, and more politically savvy when they're under fire….We will continue to stand with our sister organizations, the Urban League, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and others, as they try to advance our common agenda.
We all know that the CBCF weekend in September is a highlight of the black social season, but would you ever say to the CBCF, "We've got to do better if we're spending more on catering than on scholarships?"
The CBCF Awards Dinner brings a phenomenal array of black and white leadership. A melting pot of America is sitting in that room….It is the culmination of a 4-day weekend, with brain trusts, about any issue that touches American society….We're talking to our legislators. On that evening we have the ability to hear a speech by the sitting executive in the White House or some senior person in the administration, to inspire us and talk about issues of the day. I don't see anything wrong with that….Just to single out a catering bill is disingenuous. It's really unfair, because you don't add up all the monies for what they do throughout the year.
What more can the Obama administration do to address social justice and the problems facing black people?
I would hope that our leaders in Washington would really do more listening to the people on the street…I'm passionate about health care reform, and I am just sickened about how our legislators have put stakes in the ground and said, I won't move, because that one is a Democrat or a Republican issue, instead of saying, What is good for the American populace?…We're the only industrialized nation that doesn't offer minimum, basic health care for our citizenry. It really begs the question, Am I my brother and my sister's keeper? We're making a judgment call about whose quality of life is better.
What more should we know about you?
My adage in life is, "Care more than others think is wise, risk more than others think is safe, believe more than others think is possible and expect more than others think is practical." It allows you to think outside the box, and say that the glass is half full, and it's not half empty, and [ask] what do I do every day to put something in that glass to move it a little higher?
Sheryl Huggins Salomon is senior editor-at-large of The Root and a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based editorial consultant. Follow her on Twitter.