As the commentariat digested the news that Benjamin Jealous will step down from the post in January, recommendations from columnists, professors and general members began rolling in.
The consensus candidate is an entire gender.
Pick a woman: That’s the plea from professors, columnists and the poster of a Change.org petition.
For decades, the organization faced charges that it had grown stale. Its membership teetered older.
“People keep saying the NAACP is irrelevant and out of touch, but whenever an opening like this occurs we have an abundance of candidates,” says Julian Bond, a former NAACP chairman and a longtime member.
He received an e-mail from a woman last week — he will not disclose her name — expressing interest in the presidency.
“It seems like a fine idea to me,” Bond says of the drive for female leadership.
But this focus on gender has become off-putting to others.
“I’d love to see feminist leadership, but feminism and leaders’ bodies are not the same thing. . . . There are male feminist leaders who would do a better job than some women.”
Melissa Harris-Perry, professor of political science at Tulane University and weekend MSNBC host, interview, Sept. 20
The list of names being bandied about as potential NAACP leader is long.
Stefanie Brown James, who was the national African American vote director for the 2012 Obama for America Campaign — and national field director for the NAACP before that — is often mentioned.
“It’s very exciting to see so much traction on Twitter and social media on who the next president should be,” says James, who works on civic engagement at a company she founded with her husband.
Julianne Malveaux, an economist and former president of Bennett College for women, is also being talked about. So is Maya Wiley, founder and president of the Center for Social Inclusion in New York.
“There are amazing women leaders in social justice organizations. But they are usually women’s organizations. You are as likely to bump into an endangered Bengal tiger as a woman president or executive director at a national social justice organization,” Wiley wrote in an e-mail, adding that she is honored to be on people’s minds for the NAACP post.
Within the NAACP, Kim Keenan, who is the association’s general counsel, and Roger Vann, the chief operating officer, are two of the names being floated.
Jeff Johnson, a media personality and former national director of NAACP’s youth and college division, has also been in the mix. Johnson says he isn’t interested at this time, but he is concerned that focusing so much on a possible female leader is potentially limiting.
“The danger that I hear in some of the conversation is more about the demographic of who they should pick versus the demographics of what someone brings to the table,” he says. “It’s not about, ‘Should it be a woman?’ It’s about, ‘Who is the right woman?’ It’s not about, ‘Should it be about a young person?’ It should be, ‘Who is the right young person?’ ”
“After 104 years, the nation’s largest — and oldest — civil rights organization should evolve and move into the future for the first time with a woman at the helm.”
William Jelani Cobb, associate professor of history and director of the Institute of African American Studies at the University of Connecticut, NewYorker.com, Sept. 11
In recent decades, many NAACP leaders have been plucked from outside the organization. Those selected for the post of president — which, according to Charity Navigator, pays a salary of $284,000 — have been men.
Prior to Jealous, former Verizon executive Bruce S. Gordon stepped down after only 19 months because of differences with the organization’s board. He took over from Kweisi Mfume, a former congressman, who served nine years at NAACP’s helm. Mfume’s tenure was later marred by accusations that he gave raises to women with whom he had close personal relationships. He denied the accusations. Before that, Benjamin Chavis was fired as chief executive after he agreed to use more than $300,000 in NAACP funds to settle a sexual harassment claim.
Bond says he expects a months-long process of selection and vetting; the position might not be filled before Jealous leaves in January. The key will be finding “somebody who is familiar with the civil rights landscape and somebody who doesn’t have to learn on the job,” Bond says.
Mary Frances Berry, a former chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission, says the next NAACP president might be someone whose name isn’t yet on anyone’s lips. “Sometimes the best people haven’t applied for anything. You have to seek them out.”
Jealous was not an obvious choice when he was chosen in 2008 and, at 35, the youngest person ever tapped to run the organization, which was in financial arrears and in need of a visionary.
“We were not looking for anyone in the usual model of people who were leaders of this organization,” recalled Berry, who sat on the NAACP’s search committee at the time. “We thought we ought to make a departure and that we ought to get someone younger, someone who was fairly new to this leadership arena but who understood the issues and could work on them and could bring some vibrancy to the organization.”
By most accounts, Jealous did that.
The selection committee that will appoint Jealous’s successor will likely be chosen in October. The task of selecting the search committee from among the NAACP’s 64-member board and outside experts will fall to Roslyn Brock, the association’s chairman.
Through a spokesman, Brock declined to be interviewed, saying she does not want to unduly influence the selection process. Brock, who joined the NAACP as a freshman in college, has been active in the organization for nearly 25 years.
“So now, as NAACP senior executives begin a national search for a new president, perhaps they only need to look down the hall where Roslyn Brock, the NAACP’s national chairman, works in her Baltimore office.”
Michael H. Cottman, columnist, BlackAmericaWeb.com, Sept. 11
As NAACP chairman, Brock helps set the vision and presides over board meetings but lacks the high visibility of the association president, who runs the day-to-day operations and essentially is the face of the organization.
This week, she posted a column reminding readers that women have held important leadership posts in the past, although not necessarily those that put them in the spotlight. The first three executive secretaries of the NAACP, for example, were women. Brock is the fourth woman to serve as chairman, a position that is chosen by the organization’s board of directors.
“Women were part of the fabric that knit NAACP together,” says Patricia Sullivan, author of a history of the association and a professor at the University of South Carolina. “They grew their leaders in those early decades.”