Roslyn M. Brock named NAACP chairman, marking a generational shift

Roslyn M. Brock, who joined the civil rights organization in college, succeeds Julian Bond, left.
Roslyn M. Brock, who joined the civil rights organization in college, succeeds Julian Bond, left. (Helayne Seidman For The Washington Post)
By Krissah Thompson
Sunday, February 21, 2010

The NAACP selected health-care administrator Roslyn M. Brock as its chairman on Saturday, marking the culmination of a generational shift for the historic civil rights organization. For the first time in the NAACP's history, both its president and chairman are too young to have personally experienced legalized segregation.

Brock, 44, takes the helm from civil rights pioneer Julian Bond. She will guide the association along with Benjamin Jealous, who, at 37, is the youngest president in the NAACP's history.

The shift comes as the association seeks to regain the influence of its heyday during the civil rights movement, and Brock said her goal is to expand the NAACP's base beyond its stagnant chapter membership and narrow its focus on a few specific civil rights issues: education, health care, economic empowerment, criminal justice and civic engagement.

"As we move forward, our greatest challenge really is to hone our message to make it relevant," said Brock, who joined the NAACP as a freshman in college. "We have to recognize and to own that we can't be all things to all people, and that there are new players in the space that we operate in who may be able to do some things better than we can."

Brock and Jealous, who was named president two years ago, are tasked with finding a way to reignite what they call the association's "front-line" activism. Jealous said both see their mission as no less pressing than the struggles faced by African Americans in other eras.

"We are the so-called children of the dream," Jealous said. "We were told that everything was fair and all we had to do was work hard. That worked well for many of us, but all of us realize that we are a part of a generation that is both the most murdered in the country and the most incarcerated on the planet."

Both Brock and Jealous said they want to see the NAACP catch up with technological advancements in social activism. Smaller, younger groups have built robust online activism networks. Jealous began last year to increase the NAACP's online presence, with live streaming of video and online campaigns in support of health-care reform and other issues.

"The jury is still out on the relevance of the NAACP, but this is definitely a step in the right direction," said Andra Gillespie, a professor of political science at Emory University. "The biggest structural challenge [facing the NAACP] is in an era where there is codified equality and you have a black president, you have to figure out what a civil rights agenda looks like. No one has figured that out."

Although it had been a force in winning major civil rights battles for decades, the NAACP has been criticized in recent years for not remaining relevant. The average age of its 64-member board of directors is 58.

But the NAACP is fiscally solid and has proved its staying power, having recovered from crippling scandals and layoffs in the 1990s. It is increasing its staff and raising money, Bond said.

Brock immediately takes over the chairmanship from Bond, who is a supporter of both Jealous and Brock. Bond had announced he would step down after the association's centennial celebration, ending a 12-year run. He has been the modern face of the organization and will continue helping the NAACP raise money.

Brock, who lives in Elkridge and is director of advocacy at Bon Secours Health System, has served as vice chair since 2001, and was the first woman to hold that position. She had been groomed for the top position by NAACP elders -- including Bond and former chairman Myrlie Evers-Williams.

"You must nurture your leaders for tomorrow and at some point let them move forward," said Evers-Williams, widow of slain NAACP leader Medgar Evers. "I just don't want to now see those of us who have been the foundation dismissed as though we didn't exist."

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