The century of service to human rights from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People culminates in the national convention in New York, the cap to an extraordinary week that began with the visit of President Barack Obama to Ghana.
W.E.B. DuBois connects both legs of the trip, as the intellectual force behind the creation of the NAACP, and someone who died in Ghana. As the first African-American to gain a Ph.D from Harvard, DuBois’ paved the way for an Obama to follow.
Thirty years ago, a New York Times editorial noted that the NAACP was beginning to focus on economic matters after 70 years of legal battles. The editorial incorrectly took an either-or approach about the many issues the civil rights organization faced and continues to face. The elimination of segregation was an economic issue.
Yet, there is a kernel of truth in that message. As Washington vice president Hillary Shelton recently noted on CNN, the NAACP is unique in its breadth and representation at the local, state and national levels. From college campuses to military bases, there can almost always be found an NAACP chapter. That membership has been its strength.
In the next 100 years, with a dynamic leadership team of Benjamin Jealous and Monique Morris at the helm, the NAACP must compete for a new generation of membership, used to social networking.
Recent thrusts towards economic development have been directed towards convincing large corporations to hire more, advertise more or invest more in black communities. Yet, in the darkest hours of segregation, it was most often African-American funeral parlors and barber shops and farmers who sustained chapters.
The NAACP does have the ability to reach out to the 1.2 million African-American entrepreneurs as a more focused advocate and as a platform for connecting with the wider membership. The combination of black labor, black media, black business, the black church and the NAACP, with other organizations was quite effective over the decades.
We include supporting civil rights organizations as one of the suggested activities during National Black Business Month in August. To view it as an investment, the 1978 New York Times article discussed the growth in African-Americans making more than $15.000 per year. Now the median black income tops $30,000.
With major supporters like banks and automakers in dire straights, it is likely time for the NAACP to focus more of its development efforts on the black business community, as the circle turns. As that connection grows, the independence and effectiveness of the organization can be enhanced at every level. Black businesses know more than anyone the continuing need for the NAACP. It is a relationship that should be nurtured for the future.