WASHINGTON, D.C. – Its first 100 years were about civil rights and achieving equality between Blacks and Whites.
But as the NAACP celebrates that milestone anniversary today and begins its second century of activism, its newest and youngest leader ever says the organization must shift its mission from achieving civil rights to attaining human rights for all.
“Same schools are a civil right,” NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous said yesterday in an interview with The Associated Press, discussing as an example the Supreme Court’s 1954 decision striking down segregation in public schools. The goal then, he said, was access to educational equality.
While there are no laws on the books to keep Blacks and Whites from learning together in the same classrooms, the quality of the schools many Black pupils attend today often doesn’t compare to the schools where many Whites do their learning.
“The aspiration of the case was being able to go to the same GOOD school … that good schools are a human right,” Jealous said.
Not only good schools. But good health care and good jobs, too.
“Our agenda as we head into our second century as a civil rights organization is also to revive our legacy as a human rights organization,” he said.
One of Jealous’ predecessors agreed with the mission shift, calling it a “logical extension of the civil rights movement.”
“As long as we have disparities in educational attainment, in income, in health, in the things that we measure ourselves by in this society and they are, unfortunately, too many times determined by race, then you never get around to doing the things you ought to do,” Kweisi Mfume, a former Maryland congressman who was president of the NAACP from 1996-2004.
Jealous, 35, also said he intends to hold President Barack Obama accountable for his promises on civil rights, regardless of Obama’s status as the first Black president.
“The president being Black gives us no advantage,” said Jealous, who took over in September, adding that Obama’s background as a community organizer and civil rights lawyer may make him more receptive to the NAACP’s agenda.
Jealous outlined several issues for Obama to address his first year in office: ensuring fair distribution of federal bailout funds, programs and contracts; reducing double-digit Black unemployment; dealing with lenders who push minorities with good credit into subprime mortgages; reducing the disparity between unsolved homicides in minority and White communities; and ensuring that minority children have access to good schools.
The NAACP also has prepared a list of judges, from the federal bench down to the local level, for consideration when vacancies arise.
NAACP chapters are investigating deaths in police custody in at least five states, Jealous said. And he referenced street protests in Oakland, Calif., after the fatal New Year’s Day shooting of a 22-year-old unarmed Black man by a transit police officer. The shooting was caught on cell-phone videos and replayed on the Internet. Jealous said rioting in winter is rare, and added, “We should be concerned about what the summer will look like.”
NAACP members today are not satisfied with simply having a Black president, Jealous said. “What they want to know is: ‘What problem in my life will he be solving? Dad’s out of work, Mom’s not getting paid enough, the kids’ school is an embarrassment. What is he doing for me?”‘
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