It was 75 years ago today that the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization responded to the demands of its young members by establishing the Youth and College Division. Under the leadership of a young Juanita Jackson (Mitchell), the NAACP now provided a forum for youth to organize locally, regionally and nationally. They chose anti-lynching and public education as their first priorities.
Since that time hundreds of thousands of young people hailing from the most obscure to the most disclosed areas of our nation have engaged in community service, social change and social justice advocacy through the NAACP Youth and College Division. Granted, many join by parental requirement or with entirely recreational or even erogenous motives. But once they take part in the social activities, constant meetings, exhaustive committee work, seasonal and rapid response campaigns and tireless membership drives implemented by many youth councils and college chapters, even the indifferent often find a purpose greater than selfish interests.
I remember being nine years old and following two teenage cousins to our local community center for a youth council meeting. It was the first time I sat a table with older kids to discuss the problems in our community, and they listened. The composition of that day alone was life changing. As I experienced the organizational layers over the next 15 years, I discovered a core dedication in myself to human rights, social justice and faith. Not to be all deep and mystical, but that really is true, and it comes from seeds planted during rap sessions, workshops and training I received through the NAACP as just an elementary school student.
From identifying issues to community organizing, serving on committees, modeling parliamentary procedure, planning regular conferences and participating in national programs, the NAACP Youth and College Division has been a breeding ground for leadership development and training for seven and half decades. What other organizations provide a means for youth from as broad an age group or geographic dispersion to establish a local agenda and immediately plug it into a national forum?
Former NAACP youth council and college chapter members are contributing and leading figures in law, politics, education, nonprofits, corporations, public interest and even professional sports. Not everyone chaired a committee or held office, but many learned time and group management skills while others achieved mastery in community building, policy development, organizational management and direct action. Whether through brief or extended involvement, we were all surely exposed to the best and worst of institutional politics and would agree that few things compare to the impact of our time as a young person in the NAACP.
So today we express our gratitude to Juanita Jackson Mitchell and the young women and men who paved the way for thousands of us to help our communities and find purpose as youth. We toast to the endurance of the Youth and College Division and our love for your great cause.
Happy Diamond Anniversary!
“When nobody else is moving and the students are moving, they are the leadership for everybody.”
Ed King, Mississippi Civil Rights Worker, 1963