NAACP Chooses Its New President

Ben Jealous, right, the newly elected president of the NAACP, is introduced by Julian Bond outside the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore.
Ben Jealous, right, the newly elected president of the NAACP, is introduced by Julian Bond outside the NAACP headquarters in Baltimore. (By Lawrence Jackson -- Associated Press)
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By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18, 2008

The NAACP selected Benjamin Todd Jealous as its president yesterday, tapping a young, Oxford University-educated activist to lead the nation's oldest civil rights group.

Jealous, 35, was chosen by the group's 64-member board after a year-long search and was introduced at the group's national headquarters in Baltimore. He is expected to start his new job Sept. 1.

In selecting Jealous, the NAACP broke with its tradition of picking politicians and ministers to lead, as it did three years ago with its selection of telecommunications executive Bruce Gordon. Jealous is the president of the Rosenberg Foundation in San Francisco, which advocates for immigrants and working-class families.

Jealous also is a former news executive, having served as executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, which encompasses about 200 black newspapers, and as managing editor of the Jackson Advocate, a black newspaper in Mississippi.

"Ben Jealous has spent his professional life working for and raising money for the very social justice concerns for which the NAACP advocates," NAACP Chairman Julian Bond said in a statement. "He is a perfect match. . . . We are looking forward to a great future under his leadership."

In an interview with the Associated Press, Jealous said he is excited. "I think that it's a real affirmation that this organization is willing to invest in the future, to invest in the ideas and the leadership of the generation that is currently raising black children in this country," he said.

In June 2005, Gordon expressed a similar excitement when he was chosen to lead the NAACP but became disillusioned after the board and executive committee challenged his efforts to steer the group toward more humanitarian work rather than its sole civil rights mission. The board and Bond were equally disillusioned with Gordon, who they said did not meet his fundraising targets.

Shortly before his unexpected departure in March 2007, Gordon said the NAACP -- which billed itself as the nation's largest civil rights organization, with 500,000 members -- has 300,000 members. After Gordon resigned, the organization disputed his count, saying it does not include an additional 350,000 nonpaying members who have signed up on the Internet. Neither account could be verified.

Founded in 1909 by W.E.B. DuBois and Ida B. Wells-Barnett to fight black lynching, the NAACP is the most recognized name in the civil rights establishment with hundreds of branches. But after missteps, it is seeking to regain the influence of its heyday during the civil rights movement as it heads toward its centennial.

In recent months, the NAACP was forced to lay off a third of its staff because of a budget shortfall. The group also had to overcome public relations problems when it fired a past president for using organization funds to settle a sexual harassment claim against him.

The NAACP has long been criticized by young African Americans for failing to bring in fresh faces who can relate to the concerns of people who still face racial discrimination after the fall of segregation. Young bloggers have hammered the group, characterizing it as slow to react to a variety of issues.

Yesterday's selection might silence the criticism. Jealous is one in a growing cadre of young black activists emerging in San Francisco. Others include Van Jones, co-founder of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights and the online group ColorofChange.org; and James Rucker, the other ColorofChange co-founder.

Jealous was raised in California and attended schools in Monterey County. According to the NAACP's statement, he holds a bachelor's degree from Columbia University and a master's degree in social policy from Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. His activism started at age 14, when he participated in a voter-registration drive.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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