NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Jealous speaks at the Let Freedom Ring ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, Aug. 28, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
by Brett Zongker
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The NAACP’s board is forming a search committee to find the next president and CEO for the nation’s largest civil rights organization, its chairwoman said Monday.
Chairwoman Roslyn Brock said during a conference call that she expects the change in leadership to be an orderly transition. Outgoing NAACP President Benjamin Jealous also used the call to elaborate on his desire to spend time with his children, a reason he cited in his announcement the previous day. His departure is effective Dec. 31.
Brock says the board is disappointed Jealous is leaving after five years during which he was credited with boosting the organization’s finances and increasing stability. Still, she said staff members left energized after a meeting with Jealous on Monday.
“The NAACP is alive, and it’s well,” Brock said. “We have a strategic plan in place that will guide our work for the next 50 years.”
Jealous said during the call that he signed a new contract last year that was negotiated to keep him at the NAACP for a maximum of three more years. He says there was a clause allowing him to leave sooner because he was wrestling with the need to spend more time with his family.
He said he’d promised his daughter several years ago that he needed five years to do important work at the NAACP before he could return home and be fully engaged with the family. His daughter, now 7, reminded him each year of his promise.
“It just became clear during the month of August that I needed to go ahead and keep my promise to my daughter,” he said.
Jealous said that donations increased from $23 million in 2007 — the year before he was hired — to $46 million in 2012. The group also said its donors have increased from 16,000 people giving each year to more than 132,000 under his leadership.
Jealous said the improvements in the organization’s finances made him feel comfortable that he’d kept his promise to the board that he’d be a successful leader.
Next, the 40-year-old Jealous said he wants to teach at a university and start a political action committee focused on promoting Black and Latino candidates, along with progressives of all races.
News of his departure has been met with a mixture of sadness and appreciation from other civil rights leaders who admired how he helped the organization. Jealous was the group’s youngest-ever leader when he was hired as its president at age 35 in 2008.
In the year before Jealous arrived, the NAACP cut its national staff by a third because of what a spokesman described at the time as several years of falling fundraising revenues. Also that year, former NAACP President Bruce Gordon abruptly resigned after clashes with the group’s 64-member board.
The Rev. Joseph Lowery, a civil rights leader and former president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said Jealous brought an intellectual quality and a level of integrity that won respect.
“I’m sorry to see him resign, although I understand he has other plans. But, I think he was just getting into his stride,” Lowery said Sunday evening. “I think he brought a luster to the office that was quiet and dignified and effective, and I wish him well in his new work.”
The Rev. Al Sharpton said he felt “mixed emotions” about Jealous’ announcement, which included sadness because Jealous had led the organization so well.
“Not only was he able to revive the NAACP and raise its budget to higher heights, he joined us in the streets in real civil rights activity on the ground,” Sharpton said in a written statement. “From the ‘suites to the streets,’ he will be missed as head of the NAACP, but I am sure he will not leave us in his contribution to the struggle.”
Jealous began his career as a community organizer in Harlem with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. He was suspended from Columbia University in New York City after organizing student protests and went on to work as a reporter for the Jackson Advocate newspaper in Mississippi.
Jealous has led the NAACP to advocate against “stop-and-frisk” police tactics and stand-your-ground laws following the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. He has also fought to abolish the death penalty at the state level, in Maryland, New Mexico, Illinois and Connecticut.
During Jealous’s tenure, the NAACP also has embraced gay rights in a historic vote to endorse same-sex marriage in May 2012. “Civil marriage is a civil right and a matter of civil law,” the group said, citing the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.
Associated Press writer Phillip Lucas in Atlanta contributed to this report.