Jealous said he’s leaving the post to spend more time with his children and to raise funds to support African American candidates for political office.
Five years ago, when Jealous took the helm of the 104-year-old civil rights group, he became the youngest president in its history. At 35, he was a relative unknown in Washington circles, having been a Rhodes Scholar and nonprofit leader who had cut his teeth as an activist in New York and California, among other places.
There was skepticism: Could this young goatee-wearing man — born a decade after the major civil rights battles were won — restore the NAACP to relevancy? Was there a vigorous future for the organization in the political age of Obama?
“At the time, the NAACP was seen by many as a fading brand. It was seen as your grandmama’s organization if not your great-grandmama’s,” said Van Jones, a progressive activist who affectionately calls Jealous a “bad brother.” “He comes in and completely turns the place around in what seems like overnight.”
That turnaround focused on raising the organization’s media profile again and becoming almost frenetic in a push to address the issue of the moment — whatever it might be. No longer was the NAACP holding symbolic funerals for the N-word. It was campaigning to end the death penalty, texting young people to remind them to vote and taking on the tea party.
When Jealous leaves the NAACP in January, he will do so as one of the nation’s most prominent civil rights leaders and a man who has stood on the biggest political stages. He is a regular guest on cable news shows and has maintained a travel schedule that had him away from his Silver Spring home, wife Lia Epperson and their two young children 145 days a year.
Last week, Jealous said that his NAACP tenure was a sprint that has left the organization with more technological savvy and on sounder financial footing. It now has 420,000 mobile subscribers. The organization’s e-mail list has jumped from 174,000 names when Jealous joined to 1.3 million. In the 2012 election cycle, the NAACP registered 374,553 new voters — more than double the number it registered in 2008.
Given the NAACP’s periodic money woes and controversies, the most important numbers may be financial: According to the organization’s tax filings and numbers it provided, its revenue has grown from $25.6 million in 2008 to $46 million last year, and its individual donor base has expanded eightfold.
Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Jealous was “reflective of an effort committed to the restoration of the NAACP’s prestige and vitality” and that he had boosted the next generation of civil rights leaders.