My Disappointment in the NAACP Is Only Matched By My Awe for the Parents of the Memphis Lift

Since the NAACP voted to support a moratorium on charter schools, I’ve been slowly unpacking the unique dynamic played out before my very eyes.

You see, I was fortunate to join a 150-strong group of #PowerfulParents on a trip from Tennessee to Cincinnati, where the NAACP vote was being held. I was one of a small group of Nashvillians picked up en route—most of the parents were from Memphis and members of a take-no-prisoners parent advocacy organization called The Memphis Lift.

These uber-committed parents left their families to embark on a 34-hour, one-thousand mile mission: to make a statement and ensure the message was received.

Peaceful, but battle-ready (and tested), these men and women were properly revved. I sat beside a Memphis dad, who told me, understandably exhausted from the long trip, “I just want to get a shower, talk to my kids and get ready for tomorrow.”

I listened to parents, grandparents and great-grandparents express blinding pride in their children and the schools they’ve chosen for them. I watched organizers lovingly plan meals and lodging, problem-solve and nurture, while preparing to execute their mission. The commitment to successfully execute and return home with a win was palpable.


Hoping to connect to leadership before the vote, Lift director Sarah Carpenter emailed a meeting request to NAACP president Cornell William Brooks. Since the meeting was not granted, a small bright-eyed contingent traveled to the 9am NAACP open board meeting at the Westin in downtown Cincinnati. 

Then, in a strange twist of crazy, the parents were denied access to the meeting. I’ll just let that sink in.

The NAACP, the frontrunner of social justice for more than a century, and according to their website, is:

…actively engaged in increasing the African American responsiveness of citizens to be fully engaged in the democratic process.

…shut out the very people they are chartered to protect and engage.

Undaunted, the small group retreated and prepared for phase 2 by joining the rest of the troops. Upon hearing about the treatment of their leaders against the backdrop of the ritzy meeting venue, the freshly motivated parents positioned signs and readied their greatest weapon—their collective voice.

Chants of “no choice, no voice” and “NAACP, you don’t represent me!” filled the Cincinnati streets while police watched from strategically placed posts. Meanwhile, across the street and up a few floors, the NAACP brass sealed the deal; unmoved by the cries beneath their feet.

But, perhaps the most surreal moment of the entire experience was what happened next. After the ratification of the resolution, an NAACP field representative makes the “bold” trek down from the hotel to address the dejected ralliers. Take a couple of minutes to grapple with these images.

Though I was videoing the exchange, I looked away from my phone to take in what was unfolding before me. Suddenly, the interplay of intra-race relations and class became the star of the show. The visual of NAACP hotshots sitting atop a five-star hotel hovering over pleading parents and grandparents speaks volumes. More on this later.

The Real MVP

Even though the trip inbound was fueled by the hope that the NAACP would side with families and children, surprisingly, the trip home was equally hopeful. Lift parents, astoundingly resilient, are preparing for the next thing.

Toward that end, I must take this opportunity to offer a rooftop shout out to The Memphis Lift and its stellar leadership, Sarah Carpenter and Deirdre Brooks! Thank you for the love and sacrifice on behalf of Memphis families. You are the pride and soul of Memphis. 

Nashville parents: We got next.

2 thoughts on “My Disappointment in the NAACP Is Only Matched By My Awe for the Parents of the Memphis Lift

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