Friday, November 12, 2010

Time for a NAACP president who believes in Black People

There are moments when a speaker will say something that illuminates their core beliefs that is far more revelatory than they could have imagined or intended. It comes across with such immediate and astonishing clarity that all else the speaker says just fades away. For me, such a moment occurred when George Forbes answered a question at the NAACP Executive Committee meeting in September.

Under discussion was the local NAACP branch’s apparent inability to generate much publicity about its ACT-SO program [Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics]. ACT-SO is a student enrichment program to promote academic and artistic excellence among students of African American descent, culminating in a local and national competition.

Cleveland youth have had considerable success in recent years in national competition, bringing home several gold, silver and bronze medals, in addition to numerous scholarship awards. The concern at the September meeting was why the Branch had been unable to get a story about the most recent successes published in the Call & Post, a paper that targets the local black community.
Mr. Forbes’ offhand answer was direct: “Hey, look, it’s a black newspaper. You have to write it, take the pictures, and deliver it to them.”

The remarks were delivered with an avuncular sort of bemusement that the question even had to be asked. 'See here, he was saying, these are black folks. They can’t do any better. It’s not a real newspaper, you know. It’s not like they have real writers and editors.'

There it was: the emperor with no clothes. Here was the leader of the local chapter of the nation’s preeminent civil rights organization, charged first and foremost with defending and advancing the interests of African Americans, pretty much putting down his own race and proclaiming the incompetence of black people.
Is it any wonder that white power brokers in Cuyahoga keep going to him for deal-making about county reorganization, or protection from complaints about a lack of inclusion when multi-million dollar contracts are being discussed?
Keep in mind that Mr. Forbes’ name appears on the masthead of every issue of the Call & Post, advertising his status as “Chief Legal Counsel”. In front of fifteen or so presumed advocates of equality and inclusion, he is publicly, nonchalantly and gratuitously denigrating his incompetent client, owned by his good friend and client, the boxing promoter Don King. [Mr. King would not even be the owner of the paper but for his lawyer’s suggestion, but that’s a story for perhaps another day.]

How long can Cleveland’s black community allow George Forbes to speak for them and allow him to negotiate on their behalf when it is clear he does not respect them?

Mr. Forbes could be heard last week vouching for the integrity of a wealthy white businessman for the umpteenth time. Dan Gilbert can be trusted, he told a lunchtime group of mostly senior citizens – NAACP Life Members whose votes he will be looking for this Sunday to maintain his bully pulpit. Mr. Forbes had dealt with a lot of rich white men, he told the crowd, citing his friend and former client, the late Dick Jacobs -- and he knew which ones to trust. Therefore, the community could be assured that black people would be treated fairly.

One by one, three members of Dan Gilbert’s development team, stood up at the luncheon and assured the crowd in the most reasonable tones, that they would work closely with Mr. Forbes to insure a fair deal for the black community.

Newcomers to Cleveland figure out where Mr. Forbes is coming from after about five minutes of watching this act. They uniformly assert that this kind of “leadership” would not fly in Alabama, Georgia, New York, or wherever they have just come from. How long will we tolerate it here?

In a comment to yesterday’s post, david asked: “Nice as he is, are we to select [attorney Larry] Floyd primarily because he isn't Mr. Forbes? What is it about Mr. Floyd's vision and agenda that makes him the guy?

Fair questions. The first answer is “yes”. The answer to the second question is that Mr. Floyd has been an active member of the branch, volunteering both personal and professional time. He has offered the outlines of a strategic plan for the branch, parts of which at least he seems to have mailed to each eligible voter.

The Floyd plan cites the NAACP’s assets [its history, legal successes, etc.] its weaknesses [including “outdated image, low active membership participation, lack of collaboration with other organizations, etc.] and its current challenges/opportunities [restoring credibility, establishing accountability, fundraising, growing the membership, etc.].

An important sidebar to this race is whether the branch will retain executive director Stanley Miller if Mr. Forbes is re-elected. Longtime branch official Jocelyn Travis declined to run for re-election, fueling speculation that she would like to replace Mr. Miller in a new Forbes administration. Rev. Miller was recruited by Mr. Forbes four years ago following a successful corporate career, but some say that Mr. Forbes has soured on his choice, citing Mr. Miller’s less than wholehearted defense of the NAACP’s endorsement of the statewide ballot issue in 2009. Passage of that issue authorized Dan Gilbert to build and operate the Cleveland casino, the construction of which will has Mr. Forbes as the anointed gate-keeper of black Clevelanders’ interests, pending Sunday’s vote.

Results posted here Sunday as soon as available, possibly as early as 6PM.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Top Ten Reasons George Forbes Should Not Be Re-elected as NAACP President

George Forbes was first elected president of the NAACP in 1992, defeating former city councilwoman Mildred Madison, and the Rev. Larry Harris of Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church. Between 1500 and 3000 people turned out to vote one very cold day at the Martin Luther King Branch library in University Circle. Mr. Forbes has been unchallenged since his victory that day, as many principled members of the branch's executive committee grew weary of solitary struggle and moved on to other endeavors.

Mr. Forbes announced at the September meeting of the branch's executive committee that he would not be running for re-election. He said he had had enough and that he was tired. When the nominating committee submitted its report at the October meeting, Mr. Forbes was at the head of the ticket once again. He said that he had been persuaded to change his mind at the behest of Dan Gilbert. Mr. Gilbert, of course owns the Cavaliers and was given a license to become a billionaire by Ohio voters who guaranteed him a monopoly in perpetuity to own and operate casinos in Cleveland and Cincinnati. According to Mr. Forbes, Mr. Gilbert's Rock Ventures' Cleveland casino is to be a model of inclusivity and Mr. Forbes is indispensable to making that happen.

We don't agree, and herewith offer ten reasons why George Forbes should no longer run the NAACP.

10. The Cleveland NAACP has lost its credibility as an honest broker in civil rights. The branch is widely perceived to be an extension of of Mr. Forbes' political and business interests. [See # 2 below]
9. The Cleveland NAACP cannot lay claim to the high moral bround essential to its mission when its president has been repeatedly involved in ethical murky waters, including several occasions directly related to his role as branch president.
8. During Mr. Forbes' tenure, the branch has been unable to sustain the corporate and larger community support essential to its programmatic and financial success. Corporate support of the Freedom Fund Dinner has virtually disappeared and corporate representation on the executive committee is practically non-existent.
7. During his tenure, community interest in the NAACP has dwindled. Dues-paying membership has dropped and interest in the organization is at an alltime low.
[Personal note: I was once an active member of the Cleveland branch NAACP. At one point I ran for president of the local chapter and finished a very distant third to attorney James Hardiman and Fr. Austin Cooper. The sixty or so votes I got in that election [1978?] were more votes than the total number of ballots cast in 2006 and 2008 combined. Read that sentence again. Fewer than 25 people bothered to turn out to vote for NAACP officers in either of the last two elections. Nonvoters included many of the officers themselves.]
6. There has been a wholesale failure during Mr. Forbes' tenure to develop any meaningful new lay leadership. The same officers and executive committee members serve term after dismal turn. Some of the biggest offenders in this regard have been officers for FORTY YEARS.
5. Two decades as chief honcho of a nonprofit organization is too long for anybody, even if their accomplishments have been stellar. Organizations need to recruit and develop new talent to remain vibrant and relevant.
4. Mr. Forbes' best days as a leader are long behind him. At the very latest he should have retired when he was honored a couple of Freedom Fund dinners ago.
3. There is a total absence of programmatic leadership or planning by the NAACP board. Executive Committee members supinely follow whatever dictates their president announces.
2. Mr. Forbes has remained in power by posturing as the sole leader who can effectively represent the black community. He repetitively stands in front of black people and relates how he told this or that white person -- Bill Mason, Bruce Akers, Ted Strickland, Dan Gilbert, whomever -- that he is the arbiter of what is good for black people. He presumes to know the answer and is ever ready to tell black minions which white people are trustworthy. This straw boss role has greatly enriched Mr. Forbes and made it easy for corporate and political interests to do one-stop shopping to appease the black community.
1. Even when arguably effective at a given moment, there is in the longer term gross inefficiency and grave danger in the Messianic leadership model so prevalent in African American communities. We revere Martin Luther King Jr. for his role as leader in the civil rights movement. He may have emerged as first among equals but he had a mighty strong cadre of leaders who worked alongside and counseled him. We gravely misread history when we exalt Dr. King as a savior. The civil rights movement had many mothers and fathers. 
Any NAACP member who comes out this Sunday to vote for attorney Lawrence Floyd as branch president will be casting a vote against bossism, messianic leadership, and the plantation politics.
* * *
There is at least one other overarching reason Mr. Forbes should be replaced as branch president. I will write about that tomorrow.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Cleveland NAACP to hold election this Sunday, Nov. 14

The Cleveland branch NAACP holds its biannual election for officers and Executive Committee members this coming Sunday, November 14, 2010 from 2-5PM at Cathedral Church of God in Christ, 2940 Martin Luther King Drive, Cleveland OH 44104-4802

George Forbes, who is running for re-election as president after announcing at the branch's September meeting that he was tired and had had enough, is facing opposition for the first time. Local attorney Larry Floyd is also running for the post and has put forth a platform for action.

We will be writing more about this story in the next few days. If your membership was current on October 14, 2010, you should certainly be making plans to vote this year.