By Peter Sloggatt
More than 100 years after it was founded, 50 years after the civil rights act was passed, and with an African-American in the White House, is the NAACP still relevant?
Absolutely, Cornell William Brooks, president of the national NAACP, told a crowd of nearly 1,000 as the keynote speaker at a luncheon organized by the NAACP’s Long Island Region branches last weekend.
Acknowledging the strides toward racial equality made by the 109-year-old activist organization, Brooks called the NAACP – founded in 1909 as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – “the greatest band of activists this country has ever known.” And to any who might question the organization’s relevance in modern times, he recounted recent activism that has brought significant change.
Following the shooting death of Eric Garner on Staten Island, “You helped bring about justice,” he told the crowd. In the face of racial profiling, “We stood up and stood against stop-and-frisk and racial profiling in New York City,” he said.
Brooks, a fourth-generation preacher and passionate speaker, reminded his audience that after Michael Brown, an unarmed black man, was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, the NAACP demanded the Department of Justice investigate.
And he noted that, with minorities facing “the first election in 50 years without the benefits of the full voting rights act,” the national organization led a 1,000-mile march over 43 days from Selma, Alabama, to Washington, D.C. to lobby members of Congress.
The erosion of voting rights protections in a number of states is just one challenge faced by minorities that makes NAACP as relevant as ever today.
In carefully worded commentary on the current presidential election (as an apolitical organization, NAACP does not endorse candidates or express political opinions), Brooks called for members to stand up for equality for all.
“When we certain presidential candidates who adopt demagoguery as a viable campaign strategy, who design immigration policy by tweet, who call Mexicans racists, who degrade, dehumanize and denounce Muslims, it is this NAACP who calls it for what it is – xenophobia, Islamaphobia, racism, bigotry and bias,” Brooks said.
“It’s un-American, and it’s not what we do,” he added.
Brooks is a minister and civil rights attorney whose resume includes roles at the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington and the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights under Law. His biography lists him as “a graduate of Head Start and Yale Law School.”
The luncheon, held at the Crest Hollow Country Club on Saturday, was attended by nearly 1,000 NAACP members from Long Island’s nine chapters, each of which awarded individuals for achievements.
Another indication of the group’s relevance: The roster of elected officials and political candidates in attendance included state, county and town officials, political party leaders and Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini, making the rounds.