By Adeboyejo, Betsy
The Crisis , Vol. 118, No. 2
Philip Howell has been a member of the NAACP for nearly two decades. A life member, he can count on one hand how many NAACP chapter meetings he's missed. Howell has logged many hours in getting out the vote efforts, written effective Letters to the Editor, protested the flying of the confederate flag and addressed issues of disparity in healthcare and education. He's served as membership chair, second vice president and first vice president. Just recently he was named president of the Aiken, S.C. chapter.
To his surprise and dismay, his long record of commitment isn't what is getting all of the attention.
"It's because I'm White," Howell acknowledges. "Not all NAACP members are Black. If anybody knows Aiken and knows me, it's no big deal at all. I just want to make the NAACP in Aiken relevant to the community. I'm really humbled they thought enough of me to elect me president."
Howell is the first White president of a NAACP branch in South Carolina. Lonnie Randolph Jr., South Carolina state president for the NAACP, said Howell's election means the NAACP is succeeding in carrying out its mission of ensuring opportunities are made available to all people.
"I'm not startled by his complexion," Randolph says. "He has earned the right to be where he is. He is a dynamic young man. I don't know anybody who works harder than he does."
Howell's election indeed demonstrates the evolving diversity that is the NAACP. In December, for example, the Jackson State University chapter in Mississippi elected a young 30-something White man and in March members of the Worcester branch in Massachusetts elected their first openly gay president.
"We're practicing what we preach," Randolph said. "It's not about the color of your skin; it's what's inside, what we don't see, the commitment to the cause of freedom."
Randolph says for people who think it is unusual for a White person to lead in the organization, they should revisit history.
"I like to take people back to the morning of Feb. 12, 1909. There were 47 White people in that room and 6 African Americans when this organization started."
Howell, a native of San Bernardino, Calif., was drafted by the Army in 1969 and sent to Fort Gordon in Augusta, Ga. Following his time in the Army he decided to stay in the area and bought a dog grooming business. The owner of a schnauzer dog named Annie and a Doxen named Malcolm X, Howell has worked as a dog groomer for 35 years and with a veterinarian hospital for 22 of those years.
Having grown up during the Civil Rights Movement but never allowed to participate, Howell says he's always been drawn to issues of inequality. In 1963, he was 13 years old and watched the March on Washington on TV all day. …