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
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
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. …