New Ideas for a Civil Rights Group the Head of a Massachusetts Chapter of the NAACP Emphasizes Community Involvement
Elizabeth Ross, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
HERE in this once-prosperous shoe-manufacturing center north of Boston, L. Timothy Potter is putting forth bold new ideas for the community's African-American population.
As the new president of the Lynn, Mass., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Mr. Potter and a team of four other new officers are proposing an array of initiatives. They aim to change the national civil rights group's image of being unfocused and out of touch with contemporary social issues.
Potter says he believes his fresh ideas will benefit everyone in this ethnically diverse city, beset by the typical urban problems: crime, racial tension, drugs, high unemployment, and lack of quality affordable housing.
Some of Potter's initiatives include starting a monthly newsletter and a weekly cable-television show on issues concerning the African-American community. The group also plans to form a new African-American business association and launch a more ambitious membership drive. Youth programs - including forums with parents, youngsters, and school officials about drugs and crime - are being planned. A networking effort is in the works as well as plans to initiate programs with other community groups such as Jewish, Italian, and Hispanic organizations.
"The NAACP has been considered a bourgeois, upper-middle-class organization. And I'm trying my best to change that, to bring in young professionals between the ages of 25 and 50 who will develop programs and write proposals that will work to increase access to areas that we didn't have in the past," says Potter.
THE new, younger leadership - primarily in their 30s and 40s - includes Potter, three vice presidents, and three corporate secretaries, who assumed their positions Jan. 17. Potter says he hopes his team will reinvigorate the local NAACP group with what he calls an "innovative renaissance approach."
While the older generation of NAACP leaders led the fight against legal segregation, serious social problems must now be addressed, Potter says. His renaissance approach means handling these problems through preventive social programs and community outreach, he adds.
"We're innovating beyond" the idea of simply reacting to instances of racial discrimination, Potter says. "If you can create a better life for all people, in the process you will make a better existence for your own - which is something that hasn't been tried before."
While the NAACP at the national level has been criticized for years of infighting and lack of an organizational focus (See story, left.), many blacks in the Boston area applaud Potter's efforts in Lynn. The organization needs to broaden its focus beyond that of waging legal civil rights battles, says Joseph Boskin, professor of history and Afro-American studies at Boston University.
"There are a lot of legal problems blacks face, but how do you deal with the sociological difficulties blacks face in cities?" Professor Boskin asks.
"How do you deal with the problem of drugs that seems to beset so many young people? How do you deal with the problem of teenage pregnancy?... The NAACP can't deal with these problems. They have to reorient themselves and that's exactly what this man from Lynn is suggesting they do."
Gathered together for a week-night meeting on the second floor of a downtown Lynn building recently, local NAACP members were generally supportive of the change in leadership. …