After Tumble, Chavis Reclaims Leadership Role

Article excerpt

A YEAR AGO, the Rev. Ben Chavis was dead. Figuratively, anyway.

Crossing swords with the NAACP, of which he was executive director, Chavis found himself tossed out the door and left for dead. He was, in fact, a man without a country, someone who wanted to make a difference for African-Americans but who had no organizational base from which to do it.

That was rough for a man who had been involved in the civil rights struggle for years. He joined the NAACP after heading the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice. He had developed a reputation as an outspoken advocate for civil rights. He was initially viewed as just what the NAACP needed after years of leadership by Benjamin Hooks.

Suddenly, he found himself on the outside looking in.

One year and a Million Man March later, Chavis finds himself in much better shape. He is convening the National African-American Leadership Summit, which began Thursday and continues through Sunday in Washington.

Chavis organized two such summits last year and, in the process, angered the board of the NAACP. That's because Chavis didn't invite only long-established civil rights individuals and black organizations. He went outside the mainstream to invite rappers, black nationalists and even gang members. And he outraged some on his board by inviting Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan. The board of the NAACP didn't like the guests invited to Chavis' party. It considered his attitude to be arrogant. All of that, coupled with his being sued for sexual discrimination and harassment, caused the board to unceremoniously dump him.

But, in the words of the old song, that was then, this is now.

Today, Chavis has risen, phoenix-like, and is closer to being in a catbird seat.

How did he do it?

He can thank the Million Man March. After leaving the NAACP, Chavis formed the leadership summit organization. That group was designed to pull together many of the diverse thoughts within African-American communities and develop a strategy. Chavis deliberately included what he felt were weaknesses within the NAACP organization: the young and the poor. …