Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Low Profile of New President of NAACP May Be Obstacle for Group's Growth

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Low Profile of New President of NAACP May Be Obstacle for Group's Growth

Article excerpt

The selection of Cornell Williams Brooks as the 18th president of the NAACP came as a shock to many activists and historians who study and follow the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

"I've never heard of this guy," says one national civil rights activist, who was surprised by the pick but asked not to be identified because he did not want to appear critical of the organization's choice. "No one I know has ever heard of him or has worked with him. It's a really bizarre choice."

Likewise, many academicians who write about race and social issues say that they too are unfamiliar with Brooks and the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, the Newark, New Jersey-based organization that he's led.

Unlike his predecessors, Brooks does not come to the job with national name recognition, which some experts say is critical to helping push the organization forward. In recent decades, the NAACP has struggled to stave off declining membership and has tried to promote awareness about the organization's storied history, particularly among young people.

The organization's last permanent leader, Benjamin Todd Jealous, was the youngest president to lead the organization. He was a popular attraction on college campuses and helped to rally student activists around the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Jealous resigned last year and has gone on to work for a venture capital investment firm.

During his tenure at the NAACP, Jealous also helped to bring the organization back from financial stagnation, expanding its donor base from 16,477 when he took office in 2008 to more than 132,000 five years later. He also doubled the organization's revenue to $46 million in 2012.

It's unclear if Brooks, 53, will have that same kind of reach. He could not be reached for comment.

"I honestly have not heard of him and have not researched much on him," says Mikaela Ferrill, a rising senior at Georgetown University and vice president of the NAACP chapter on campus. "My hope is that the NAACP continues to reach out to young people, including building college chapters and youth councils. I always think that should be a priority."

Dr. David Canton, an associate professor of history at Connecticut College and an expert on the NAACP, says that the 64-member Board of Directors may have intentionally wanted to choose a leader that wasn't so high profile.

That theory makes sense to Dr. Thomas Bynum, director of African American Studies at Middle Tennessee State University and the author of NAACP Youth and the Fight for Black Freedom. …

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