NAACP Leaders Bring Growth, Fresh Ideas

By Alexander, Rachel | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), January 19, 2015 | Go to article overview

NAACP Leaders Bring Growth, Fresh Ideas


Alexander, Rachel, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


On move-in day, the new office for Spokane's NAACP was humming with activity.

Two young men in the corner of the room had a wide-ranging conversation about everything from Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman to the Black Lives Matter movement, while other members put together a bookshelf or dropped in to see the new space.

The one-room office on the second floor of the Saranac Building signals a fresh start for Spokane's chapter of the national civil rights organization. NAACP members elected Rachel Dolezal, the police ombudsman commission chair and former director of the Human Rights Education Institute in North Idaho, to be their president in November, beating out incumbent James Wilburn.

Since her election, attendance at meetings has grown from the single digits to more than 50 people. Membership is rising too, Dolezal said.

"That kind of energy and momentum is symbolic of where we're headed. It's going to be a building year," she said.

The NAACP is a national civil rights organization formed in 1909 in response to a race riot in Illinois. It's been involved in many legal battles for black civil rights, including the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision, which desegregated American schools in 1954.

Spokane's chapter received its charter in 1919. Wilburn served as president from 2013-14 and focused on education issues, holding regular meetings with Spokane Public Schools leaders. During his time in office, membership dwindled and the chapter had trouble keeping committees active.

Wilburn said he's happy to see numbers growing.

"She's bringing in some fresh people, that's good. The change is good," he said.

Sandra Williams, who's been involved in the chapter on and off since college, said Dolezal's work has gotten many young people involved in revitalizing the organization.

"I think there's energy in the NAACP that I haven't seen in a while," she said. "This feels sort of like a rebirth of the black community ... I'm excited about what that will produce."

Some of that energy, members say, is because of a national conversation about race in the wake of several high-profile police killings of unarmed black people.

Kyle Norbert joined the NAACP a few weeks ago, largely because of a conversation with a friend in which several such cases came up. He hadn't known Spokane had a chapter of the group.

"After going to the first meeting and hearing about some of the issues that are important to ... the organization, I decided to get involved," he said.

He's now involved in communications, helping to run social media sites and revamping the chapter's website, and hopes he can contribute to a productive dialogue about the experiences of black people in the area.

"You have very progressive thinkers here of every color, creed and race, but the fact is that it's a very, very white-dominated area of the country," he said of Spokane. "I come across a lot of people here where I'm the first black person they've ever talked to."

Right now, Dolezal's focus is on increasing member involvement by revitalizing committees within the chapter. Some of those committees will focus on specific policy issues, while others will tend to organizational tasks like membership, finances and communication.

Charles Thornton, the chapter's newly appointed first vice president, said the focus on member involvement has modernized the group. …

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