This week marked the centennial celebration of the nation’s oldest and most respected civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Hundreds gathered in New York City, the birthplace of the organization, to reflect on history and cast a vision for the future.
What began as a small meeting of the minds, including Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Dubois, is now a multi-faceted organization with multiple outreach campaigns and a multi-million dollar budget. As of late, the NAACP has taken up causes like health care, economic empowerment, and education — without ceasing to support the social justice platform upon which the organization was founded.
Despite the NAACP’s victories, there are those who believe that the NAACP is a “graying” organization. Moreover, there are those who believe that civil rights organizations of its kind are no longer necessary. With regard to the necessity of the NAACP today, it was the NAACP’s New York chapter president, Hazel Dukes, who led the fight for justice in the case of Sean Bell, an unarmed African American man gunned down in Queens, New York (by New York City police officers). As Reggie Clemmons (a man on death row believed to have been wrongfully convicted) sits in a Missouri prison two weeks away from legal injection, it is the NAACP that continues to fight for his release. These are key examples of why the NAACP is still necessary.
“I understand there may be a temptation among some to think that discrimination is no longer a problem in 2009,” said President Barack Obama on the closing night of the NAACP convention. “But make no mistake: The pain of discrimination is still felt in America.”
President Obama is right. Though we’ve come the proverbial “long way” since 1909, for many people of color — and therefore for all of us — the struggle continues.
In the hearts and minds of African Americans across the country, there’s often a slight reminder (no matter how subtle) — that freedom was never free for us. Organizations like the NAACP, National Council of Negro Women, and the National Urban League should continue to do the work that rids this country of inequitable practices and disparaging behaviors. We should keep these organizations alive and support them by becoming active and involved. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that “silence is betrayal.”
If organizations like the NAACP had been silent long ago, African Americans may not have enjoyed the pride that all of America experienced on January 20, 2009, when Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. We must continue to challenge one another to become more involved in organizations that promote change and equality for all people.