Winston-salem, NC — The nation’s Colleges will be the incubators for new soldiers in America’s civil rights struggle, Kweisi Mfume told a group of students.
“I believe the NAACP has got to go where the future is and the future clearly is on college campuses throughout this nation,” said Mfume, the new president and CEO of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
“I made a commitment to the organization and a very serious promise to myself that if nothing else this organization would reinvent itself by understanding and embracing generational change.”
Mfume spoke at the Winston. Salem State University recently as part of the 51st Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament, one of his first speaking engagements after being installed as the new head of the NAACP.
The CIAA tournament brings together men’s and women’s basketball teams from more than a dozen historically black colleges and universities in North Carolina, Virginia and Maryland. This year, an estimated 20,000 alumni and student athletes attended the week-long tournament.
Mfume told the students that it was no coincidence that he spent his second official day on the job at a college to create support among young people.
“The NAACP is back, but more importantly, it’s all right now to come back home to the NAACP,” Mfume said.
The sentiment expressed by the young people present was one of welcome.
“We are tired of the regression. We are ready to progress,” said Karen Taylor, president of the university’s NAACP chapter.
An official at NAACP’s national headquarters in Baltimore said the organization has chapters on about 100 campuses. Mfume, who became politically active in college, challenged students not only to get involved with local and college NAACP chapters, but to bring new ideas to national leaders.
While the NAACP was at the forefront of ending discriminatory laws and practices in the 1960s and 1970s, it recently has been dogged by criticism and has appeared impotent on major issues affecting African Americans. In addition to internal squabbles with former NAACP executive director Ben Chavis and a $3.5 million deficit young people say the group is out of touch.
Mfume, a former Maryland congressman and past chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, did not outline a plan to recruit more students, but he said the effort was sincere. He wouldn’t have left a safe seat in Congress — he was re-elected with about 80 percent of the vote — unless he was serious about boosting the NAACP, he said.
In the turbulent 1960s, it was college students who led grassroots battles for an end to legal discrimination. College students, especially throughout the South, participated in marches and risked their lives in many civil rights struggles.
Today’s students should not forget the examples of the students of the 1960s, he said. “We need young people who believe the power and the premise that all people are created equal.”
A Congress that seeks to disenfranchise minorities, a Supreme Court that appears to be reversing laws that help minorities and women and efforts to dismantle affirmative action are part of a new threat to African Americans, he said.
“Don’t lose sight of the fact that your generation now has a responsibility — as does every generation — to bring about a new existence and a new world order; a new hope, a new horizon, a new opportunity for our nation.”
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