This week the NAACP held its centennial celebration. The NAACP was formed in 1909 and is still standing 100 years later. The question is whether the NAACP is relevant today. After all, we have elected an African American President. The U.S. Attorney General is African American. Both spoke at the convention. Some think we are in a post racial world. Those who doubt the NAACP’s relevancy needed to be in attendance. I was fortunate to be able to attend and witness first hand the reasons why the NAACP is still relevant today. The NAACP amply made out the case for its existence today citing facts, figures and issues.
Every viable organization that withstands the test of time must change to remain relevant. As times change, some issues change, some remain and others evolve. President Obama said the barriers of the past are not the same as today. We no longer face Jim Crow or lynching. Yet, we must still eradicate prejudice and discrimination. The NAACP must now stand for advancement of civil rights and human rights. We need only to look at the state of our economy, criminal justice system, housing foreclosure crisis, health issues and discrimination in these areas, to understand the continued need for this organization.
In the area of economics, Blacks still earn $.75 for every dollar earned by a white male. Predatory lending and sub-prime mortgage schemes have been shown statistically to target Blacks and Hispanics. Minorities have lost their homes through illegal means with little redress. 1.6 million homes are in foreclosure. The federal government is assisting some homeowners. Government help is too little and too slow. Bankruptcy and other laws were changed overnight to help banks, auto and other industries. The federal government has failed to significantly change laws to to prevent foreclosure and the economic loss of wealth by minorities.
Pay day loans are still legal and target minorities. The average interest rate for these loans is between 400 to 600% or higher. In comparison, blacks who sharecropped were only charged 40%. These loans target the most vulnerable and cause them even greater economic peril.
In the Gulf coast area, $420 million in funds were given to rebuild areas hit by Hurricane Katrina. None of the monies were spent on rebuilding any poor or lower income housing in New Orleans. The NAACP and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights has filed a lawsuit for the improper use of federal funds. New Orleans is being built as a city for the haves and not the have nots.
The Voting Rights Act was passed over 40 years ago to prevent voter fraud and injustice in the electoral process aimed at African Americans. Yet, 40 years later, the African American vote is still being suppressed. Recently, the Supreme Court heard and decided to leave the Voting Rights Act in place. This is in spite of our last election.
The criminal justice system is still flawed and racially biased. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reports police racial profiling of minorities is still alive and well. Disparity in sentences in the criminal justice system between blacks and whites still exists. The disparity of the death penalty sentences between whites and blacks is alarming. NAACP President Ben Jealous promises to work towards complete abolishment of the death penalty. It appears to be his life’s calling.
So is the NAACP still relevant today? It is just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago. Today we face different challenges in human rights and civil rights. The challenge for the NAACP is to fight the fight in different ways. Having an African American President and Attorney General is no reason to sit idly by and wait for change to come. The NAACP must aggressively attack the issues of today on the executive, judicial and legislative levels. It needs to broaden its base and build even greater coalitions. The challenges remain and the fight continues.
Happy 100th Birthday NAACP!