For a split second I thought I was in a parallel universe. I was in the middle of Cincinnati with 150 other Black people rallying against the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. THE NAACP. Talk about your jagged little pills!
I’m no stranger to protests, thanks to my majority-white alma mater that provided plenty of hands-on experience to accompany that poli-sci degree. Never, though, did I imagine one day I’d participate in a bold and public demonstration against the greatest civil rights organization of our time. (For a glimpse into that experience, please see my post titled: My Disappointment in the NAACP Is Only Matched By My Awe for the Parents of the Memphis Lift.)
Still, probably the most striking visual of the weekend involves choice champion John Little flanked by The Memphis Lift parents, confronting the embattled NAACP field representative. This perfectly illustrates the dynamic with which I’ve struggled for the past four days:
Perhaps it should go without saying, but I’m filled with anxiety about blasting “family” business. Publicly sharing our internal discontent and dysfunction to outsiders was once harshly frowned upon in the Black community. Needless to say, times have changed and the way we go about handling our business must follow suit.
The African-American community has within itself a melting pot of varied interests, experiences, and backgrounds. We are not monolithic. However, what binds us is the unique membership of a group who, for centuries, was treated as subhuman and continues to be systemically maligned. Despite educational attainment, suburban zip codes, or purchasing power, we are lifetime members.
So I have to ask the question: How could anyone working for or within the NAACP expend time, money and energy working against the very people who because of birth or circumstance are in financially delicate situations, and therefore, have limited or no access to quality resources?
Let’s be clear, I’m not letting myself off easy. The events in Cincy have sent me into days of self-assessment and self-reflection, bouncing scenarios off friends and recounting past experiences in my role working with the Nashville school board.
I can recall that hundreds of disenchanted parents paraded through the school board chambers while I was there and, dutifully, I went about the business of organizing and securing calm. In those instances, had I appeared just like that NAACP field rep, severely out of touch and dismissive of that unique lifetime membership?
The Woman in the Mirror
I’m still processing those questions and, honestly, I’m not proud of where the answers are headed. Thankfully, the woman in the mirror simultaneously serves as my harshest critic and greatest motivator.
So, I challenge the NAACP brass and members to grab a mirror.
Because I think they might discover the person in the mirror resembles the aunt who cheered for you all the way through school. Or the grandfather who nurtured his family and community with blood and sweat while demanding a better life for others. Or the mother holding down two jobs while ensuring her children obtain the best education available. Or the little girl and boy who, for but a season, are completely dependent upon the adults to get it right with life-and-death urgency.
We don’t have to agree on most things, but our unique membership requires that we do whatever it takes to make sure we take care of our own.