by Jeff Johnson
Chief of strategy for Illume Communications
On Aug. 3, 1994, syndicated columnist Carl Rowan (pdf) published the first of four blistering columns on the NAACP. It began: “It is sickening to watch the death of the NAACP, a once-proud organization now being strangled by two incredibly arrogant leaders.” The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at that time was dealing with the fallout from the questionable actions of the Rev. Ben Chavis, then executive director, and Chairman of the Board William F. Gibson. The result was the firing of Chavis and a downward spiral that lasted for several years and changed forever how the organization empowered and managed its national staff.
Nearly 20 years later, the NAACP, currently engaged in a search for its next president and CEO, is in a place that is (in the opinion of this writer) sickening to watch. This grand organization (celebrating 105 years of existence next month) is getting ready to replay the same tragic story we saw during the transition of the last four national leaders of the organization, dating back to 1994. But now the question is not just who will be the next CEO, but who should be the next chair of the board and members of the executive committee?
While the departure of Chavis was marred in legal issues that the shift from Ben Jealous avoided (so far), it signaled the beginning of two decades of challenges, both public and private, between the executive committee (27 members elected from the 64-member board of directors) and the president and CEO of the oldest civil rights organization in the United States.
From Kweisi Mfume to Bruce Gordon, and now during the transition of the recently departed Jealous, those who have cared enough to watch have seen a recurring storyline. The CEO resigns, things seem in great shape, the world realizes they are in poor shape, the NAACP board blames the outgoing CEO, the board then crowns the next messianic figure on whom to pin the hopes of the civil rights community.
To read Jeff Johnson’s open letter in its entirety visit The Root.