Stevens said he turned down a brand new car—a Camaro, and a company expense account.
“My job was in commercial enterprise, but my heart said, ‘not’… It didn’t settle right with me to be working with Humble Oil Co. (now Exxon) with all the unrest, the inequalities,“ he said.
Stevens said that during his early years in the NAACP, people would ask him why he was a part of that organization instead of some of the others like the “Black Power” movement that were gaining traction at the time.
He said one of the main reasons people were hesitant was because of what the acronym NAACP— National Association for the Advancement of Colored People—stood for.
At that time Blacks didn’t like to be called “colored,” and he originally sought for a name change of the organization. He later changed his mind.
“In my lifetime I’ve been Colored, Negro, Afro-American, Black and African American, if the NAACP change its name every time Black folks were called something different, we would not know what the NAACP was called,” Stevens said.
He said that the organization would have lost its identity in the name of trying to maintain a politically correct moniker, and that it served the NAACP better to stick with its past history by making it relative to current issues.
“The NAACP stand for something for people, they know is the boldest, oldest organization on the planet in terms of civil rights, and we should be proud of that and focus on what we can be doing now and in the future,” he said.
He charged himself to make the Pittsburgh branch of the NAACP as relevant as possible.
“I didn’t want to spend too much time on what the words stood for and the name, but rather what are the deeds—the functionality and the relevancy at that time and moving forward,” Stevens said.
From youth director to executive director within a couple of years, to ultimately president of the Pittsburgh branch in 1990, Stevens was able to move up the ranks of the NAACP, in part because of his valued ability of independent thinking; a trait he admired in his “Civil Rights Father,” the late Byrd Brown, and his “Civil Rights Mother,” Alma Speed Fox.
“(Attorney Brown) had his own (law) firm in Downtown Pittsburgh, he didn’t work for anybody, a corporation, the city of Pittsburgh or the county,” Stevens said. “I think one of the things people admired about Byrd, and I did too was his independence.
“I admire (Fox’s) independence. Even to this day as a 90-something year old woman, she’s very outspoken in whatever she thinks needs to be done in civil rights and women’s rights.”
The independent thinkers are the ones who will be charged with carrying the civil rights torch.
So where are the Tim Stevens of the 60s, 70s and 80s, today?
With the need for young adults to get involved and take leadership in the Civil Rights struggle, Stevens said there is a need to re-involve young people in the movement.
“I think the collective leadership in the blending of generations is important,” he said.
Stevens said local activists like rapper, Jasiri X and Brandi Fisher have began to “bridge the gap” of generations.
He credits Jasiri X with creating “positive rap” to communicate to the community, as opposed to the constantly negative portrayal of Black men.
Brandi Fisher has stirred the pot of relations between the police and youth in Pittsburgh’s Black communities through her advocacy for additional police accountability,
“Brandi emerged as a young Black leader in Pittsburgh through her involvement in the Jordan Miles case. She is very well respected from the political leadership downtown through her activism,” said Stevens.
He said one of the major take-aways that Blacks in the continuing Civil Rights Movement have to remember is that, “The demonstration will not last but so long around any issue. No particular issue last permanently around an individual or an incident source. It can source movements and other things that happen as a result. But you have to have the legislative support for permanent long-term effects,” said Stevens.
As the current Chairman and CEO of B-PEP, Black Political Empowerment Project, Stevens believes voting is not only one of the major problems the Black community is facing, but also one of the best answers for the Civil Rights struggle.
“African Americans have to vote, and not just in the Presidential Elections. I fear that as people in my age group die off so will the commitment to vote. It’s a sad reality that may have forgotten the blood we’ve shared and battles we fault just for the right to vote,” said Stevens.
He also lists violence, unemployment, a rigged judicial system and affordable housing as other issues that hamper Blacks in the movement.
“These things bring back issues that we were fighting 50 years ago. It’s very frustrating and discouraging,” he said.
Stevens said that there is no national solution to the Civil Rights issues, and that the best way to tackle them is by putting “boots on the ground” in local movements that get “emulated and duplicated across the country.”
“Local people have to energize themselves or be energized by the folks that have the ability to motivate people,” he said.
He said his focus remains on the local scene, where the most work has to get done.
“My heart’s in the whole social justice arena and that’s where it has been, from literally decades ago, and it’s never altered, obviously,” he said.
(Samson X Horne is a contributing writer for the New Pittsburgh Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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