The Council of Bishops of the African Methodist Episcopal Church is right in calling for the NAACP to restructure and redefine its mission.
The bishops should be commended for raising concerns about the future and relevance of the NAACP.
The bishops raised their concerns in a candid, but constructive open letter to the 109-year-old civil rights group. The letter dated July 7 takes a well overdue look at the nation’s oldest civil rights organization.
“The NAACP boasts that it is the oldest civil rights organization in the country. While this is true and ought to make us proud, longevity alone is not proof of relevance,” the council wrote. “For the reality is that today the NAACP is smaller and less influential than it has ever been in its history as an organization. Today the NAACP intimidates no one. To be perfectly honest, the same challenges that face the NAACP face mainline faith denominations. We are old, and have not restructured or positioned ourselves to meet the times in which our congregants live. The Black Church is seeking to confront its own challenges and we call upon the NAACP to do the same.”
The letter is timely as it comes when the NAACP is seeking a new face of the organization. The national NAACP board voted in May to dismiss its previous president, the Rev. Cornell Williams Brooks.
In his three years as president, Brooks tried to raise the profile of the NAACP, which was slow to react to high-profile police shootings of unarmed African Americans across the country. Brooks was among the activists arrested in January at the office of Jeff Sessions, during a sit-in protest of his nomination for Attorney General. The former Alabama senator was later confirmed to the cabinet position.
But the NAACP’s problems started long before Brooks’ service as president and will continue with his replacement unless the organization makes some fundamental changes.
As the bishops pointed out, one of the first areas that the NAACP should change is the structure of its national board. As the bishops recommend, the NAACP should restructure its national board of 64 members. The bishops are right in their contention that a NAACP board half its size is more realistic and in line with board governance standards.
The council is also correct in calling into question the mission and vision of the NAACP.
“The NAACP is to be about the advancement of people of color, and people of color are not being able to advance without a good education; with the consequences of not being able to get or create good jobs, decent housing, health care and creating good communities,” the council of bishops wrote.
“What is the NAACP position and strategy on these issues? What is the NAACP position and where is the fight for criminal justice reform? What would inspire Black Lives Matter and other such groups to join us?”
The bishops raise a concern that affects not only the NAACP, but many other African-American-led organizations. The council noted that the NAACP depends on the financial support of the entities that are harming African Americans such as alcohol and tobacco companies and self-interested union leadership.
“Do you rely on this support because our own people aren’t supportive financially?,” the bishops questioned. “Could this nonsupport be because people interested in advancing the interests, access and opportunity of African Americans don’t believe the NAACP is relevant?”
The truth is probably both. Some believe in the NAACP agenda but fail to support it and others don’t believe the organization’s agenda is worthy of their financial support.
On the critical issue of financial support, African Americans as a group must share the blame. The failure to financially support our own civil rights organizations, colleges and universities and cultural institutions is a historic problem that should not continue with the rise of the Black middle and upper class.
Our civil rights groups, arts institutions, colleges and elected officials go begging for the support from others. Without the support of corporations, unions and wealthy white individuals many of these organizations and institutions would cease to exist. This problem goes beyond the NAACP. It is a problem for too many African-American organizations and institutions.
This shameful dependency limits the effectiveness and often shapes the agenda of our organizations, leaders and elected officials.
The time for financially supporting our institutions is long overdue.
To its credit, the NAACP appears to be open to the bishops’ criticism.
The NAACP sent a letter to the AME Council of Bishops inviting them to work with the organization.
“In order to end the cycle of systemic racism and build a better America, our position is that success will require an all-hands-on-deck approach — with the continued help of the faith community,” said the response letter signed by NAACP board leaders.
The NAACP board leaders are right to call for “all hands on deck.” It is easy to criticize the NAACP but African Americans, “people of color” and concerned whites should work together to build a better America. When the NAACP holds its upcoming listening tours to assess what it should do next, the meeting should be well attended with participants who offer constructive advice and more importantly their pledge to join and participate in making the organization better.