Last week, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) celebrated its 101st birthday with its annual convention, this year hosted in Kansas City, Mo.
The NAACP's mission is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination. While the milestones of achievement in civil rights will always be a part of history, the status and the future of the organization are in question. The NAACP has a lot of critics - the majority of which are African Americans themselves. I count myself as one of them.
Membership has plummeted as people question and downright challenge its relevance and effectiveness today.
A generation gap of grassroots leadership envelops the organization. At one end of the divide are those who were on the front lines of the historical struggle; at the other end are those born well after the movement reached its peak.
The organization is aware of the perception it is out of touch. Convention attendees last week explored revitalizing the organization's 600 high school and college units, buffing up the Web site and making better use of social media to reach new blood.
But their problems have less to do with younger leadership and a stronger social-media presence and more to do with what issues they take on in the name of advancing equality for black people.
The NAACP fails to use its national platform to address equity and civil-rights issues at the local level, where it is most poignant in the lives of its members. Look no further than our own backyard for examples.
The national office has been aware of every questionable law-enforcement shooting of black men in the Greater Seattle area and has never lifted a finger to advocate for necessary investigations or criminal charges against the officers.
When Kent School District security guards were accused of abusing black children through unnecessary handcuffing and excessive force, the national office sought to force the local branch to clarify it was not involved in the investigation or efforts for justice or policy reform.
When Seattle Public Schools showed its acceptance of segregation with forced school closures and new student-assignment plan, again the national organization was aware and did nothing.
It is a pattern of failure duplicated in every city with an active branch, leaving local black communities without the support they need to fight racial prejudice.
While the national office is busy advancing itself and a platform that does little to address equity issues at the community level, the people suffer. Last week, the NAACP caught media attention for passing a resolution demanding the Tea Party "repudiate" racist acts in the name of the Tea Party movement. But an overwhelming number of African Americans would have preferred to see the organization condemn the Republican Party for creating the Tea Party (by stoking the fires in the minds of the far-right) and then sitting on its hands once its members all but declared a race war that began a few years ago.
It's a classic example of the disconnect between the organization and the people.
Why should we give our hard-earned money to an organization that refuses to address what's happening in our cities?
Why should we support an organization quick to play the victim card but mum on the negatives perpetuated in the black community, by the black community?
Why should we condone an organization that all but ignores the oppression black gays and lesbians face every day because they don't want to broaden their respect of what is a civil right and who is worthy of advocacy, or because they're too caught up in their own homophobia?
Why should we respect an organization that literally awards entertainers for propagating negative stereotypes of black men and women, the black family and the black community?
Why should we support an organization that says it works in our best interest but will cast us aside to maintain relationships with big businesses that cause us harm?
Simple. We shouldn't.
One hundred and one years is a long life well-lived - one that eventually must end. If the organization hopes to thrive for another 100 years and advance the lives of those it represents, it needs to wriggle its caterpillar self into a cocoon and emerge as a 21st-century butterfly, ready to soar to new heights - in a new direction.
Sable Verity provides social commentary for the FreshXpress.com: The Pulse of Young Black America, KBCS Radio and many other outlets.[[In-content Ad]]