It’s time to renew my NAACP membership and without hesitation I will make my annual contribution. I’m not just one of close to 500,000 members nationwide, I also lend my time and energy by serving as first Vice-President of a local branch.
My continued service and commitment to the NAACP doesn’t come without ridicule, especially from my peers. I’ve had numerous conversations about the “relevancy” of the organization, how old the membership and mission is and why it still uses the word “colored” in the organization’s name. A simple Google search will result in a number of blog posts and articles making the same arguments and these arguments will undoubtedly continue as long as the organization exists. So why do I make the choice to lend my time and talent to this historic organization?
No one that engages in the NAACP relevancy conversation can deny the historic accomplishments the organization has garnered in its 102 year history. It is hard to imagine what our lives would be like without the hard work of the NAACP and its millions of members. But the NAACP has more than a historic past, it has a very active present. Hundreds have recognized that fact while watching the tragic result of the Troy Davis case and have found new respect for our work. But the NAACP’s advocacy for criminal justice issues is certainly not new and not far in the past.
Troy Davis is but one of the many people we seek justice for. In Georgia, the NAACP is advocating for a new trial for John McNeil who is serving a life sentence for defending the life of his son and his property. Back in April, we released the report “Misplaced Priorities: Under Educate, Over Incarcerate” which further exposed the correlation between low performing schools and high incarceration rates. The report is a part of a larger nationwide campaign to reform the criminal justice system on a state and federal level. The initiative has received support from our usual allies and uncommon ones such as former Speaker Newt Gingrich and Grover Norquist.
Criminal justice is but one of the many issues the NAACP involves itself in. While the national organization, its state conferences and local branches all give scholarships directly to deserving students, it is advocacy for equal education as a whole that millions of students across the country will benefit from the most. Additionally, the organization is simultaneously advocating for West Virginians who live in areas plagued by toxic ash, opposing voter ID laws in Florida, Ohio, and other states that disproportionally affect students and people of color, and releasing an advocacy manual to combat childhood obesity.This is just a small snapshot of the work of the NAACP in its second century of existence.
This is in addition to the local work that over two thousand local branches do every day. My peers may question our relevancy yet there are a number of people in our communities that see the NAACP as a resource. Everyday our local branch receives calls from people all over the country to report police brutality and employment discrimination and request legal assistance and employment recommendations. While all of the branches may not provide those types of direct service, people recognize the strength and effectiveness of the NAACP and seek us out for help.
All of this important work outweighs the minor instances of frustration I have with the NAACP. I admittedly refused to send friends to the video on our website of our funeral for the “N” word during the national convention in Detroit a few years ago. Recently, when a local branch cried racism when a group of students and parents demonstrated poor sportsmanship at a football game, I once again had to defend my organization from a relevancy question. I have my own criticisms of the organization. I would love for the organization to embrace a more comprehensive use of social media in its activism, take a leadership role in protecting women’s reproductive rights and work with local community organizations to combat the violence in our own communities.
But I realize I can’t ask an organization to make these changes and more by being critical from the outside. I made the choice to join and be a part of the leadership in order to make these changes from within. My local branch and the national organization can count on not only my annual financial commitment as a life member but I will happily defend the organization from questions of its relevancy and continue to lend my talents and time to make the organization better.
L. Joy Williams is a political strategist and founder of LJW Community Strategies, a boutique government and public affairs firm based in New York. Ms. Williams is a frequent commentator on politics, race and pop culture and is co-host of the widely popular podcast Blacking It Up! which airs live Mon-Thurs 1:30pm est.