Thursday, December 01, 2011

Nonprofit Thursday: Choking the Pipeline

The Consortium of African American Organizations announces the unveiling of its new website at Take a look and let director Connie Atkins know what you think.

  CAAO Logo with web address

Choking the Pipeline
We take advantage of the fact that this month begins on a Thursday to inaugurate what may be a new tradition: using the first Thursday of the month to focus on a specific local community nonprofit or issue.

As a reminder, when we debuted Nonprofit Thursdays six weeks ago, we were acknowledging the critical role nonprofit organizations play in civic, business, social, and of course, religious life, most especially in Cleveland’s black community. We celebrated new executive leadership at three of the city’s principal black organizations: The Urban League, The United Black Fund, and the NAACP.

At the same time we alluded to the tendency of too many organizations in our community to marginalize themselves by recycling the same officers and board members. This unhealthy practice has retarded the development of new leadership and fresh ideas in the black community for at least forty years. 

In a healthy environment, board members and executive directors alike would constantly look to recruit and develop new participants and supporters. 

There is an enormous reservoir of talent in our community waiting to be tapped:

   • The young neighbor who organizes the bake sale to raise funds for her child’s elementary school can use the same talents to benefit a neighborhood center or advocacy group. 
   • That co-worker skilled in organizing workplace functions who consistently demonstrate a knack for great ideas for entertaining, fundraising, or recruiting. 
   • The new attorney/insurance agent/ accountant/ corporate executive/ returning veteran in your neighborhood who could contribute mightily to your organization while simultaneously expanding their own personal network.

There is a natural progression of responsibility in both the workplace and the civic arenas. New recruits start at the bottom, have a chance to make mistakes and learn from them, to demonstrate energy, industry, initiative, team spirit. They move from neophyte to assistant to associate to primary to chief as they demonstrate mastery and reliability and readiness. Before long the best and brightest are ready for  leadership roles in our churches, social agencies. Some may emerge as potential candidates for public office.

At the dawn of a new era in the sixties, when the possibility arose that a black person might become mayor of Cleveland, Carl Stokes was ready. He had demonstrated the skills and commitment necessary for the job. He was 36 when he ran the first time. 

Contrast that era to 2001 when another young lawyer, a native son with national credentials, tossed his hat in the mayoral ring. It took his uncommon tenacity and the eventual endorsement of his Congresswoman to overcome the inbred and closed structure of our community and make Ray Pierce a viable candidate against the wishes of an aggregation of cautious and timid gatekeepers.

It is not so much caution and timidity that causes so many of our organizations to turn their collective backs on welcoming and developing our young people into future leaders. It is unfortunately something worse than that: a misplaced sense of entitlement, a desire to hold on to some puny or imagined piece of power or prestige.

When insiders hang on too long they cease being community assets and become community clogs. They choke off the natural paths our youth to stretch and grow.

When young people don’t see opportunity or a welcome hand, they are likely either to disengage or depart. Most of us have seen our children leave Cleveland for places of greater opportunity.

Where are the opportunity structures in Cleveland when what should be our premier and even second-tier organizations have the same board members in place for decades?

One of the worst offenders in this regard is the Cleveland branch NAACP. The president has been there twenty years. Several members of the executive committee have been there twice that long.

In our first paragraph we said we would spotlight a community nonprofit. As it happens this time the spotlight reveals mold.

But we end by making this plea: resolve to join the NAACP in 2012. If we can reclaim the most sclerotic organization in our community from its politburo, there’s no limit to what we can do.

Occupy NAACP in 2012!

1 comment:

dickpeery said...

Yes, a community that does not nurture its young is a community without a future. Too bad the examples you choose to make your point don't quite make the mark. Equating Carl Stokes and Raymond Pierce obfuscates rather than clarify the issue. Stokes and his brother, Louis, along with other young black professionals, were recognized as civil rights activists years before Carl ran for mayor. Carl tackled issues such as discrimination in housing and the justice system after he became a lawyer in the 1950s. His campaigns for mayor were based on matters of compelling importance to black voters. Pierce, on the other hand, came to town with a blank slate on local matters. He made himself known by saying he did what the elders said and went to school. He did not stake out positions on issues of importance that differed from those of the incumbent Mayor Jane Campbell.
You say that if young people do not see opportunity or a welcome hand they will disengage. In the earlier era, young people acted without waiting for aid. Carl Stokes did not depend on approval from established black leaders when he ran for the Ohio Senate, Ohio House and Mayor of Cleveland. He saw a need and that became his opportunity. Other young people who were frustrated by the slowness of the NAACP and Urban League formed new activist organizations such as CORE, JFK House, the Afro Set and other cutting edge groups. That's where a lot of local and national leaders got the experience to serve on a high plane.
With need as the definition of opportunity, there are more openings for young people to serve than at any time since the end of slavery. Inner city schools have more overcrowded classes and fewer extra curricular activities than ever while profit making charter schools that fail to educate continue to proliferate. A larger percentage of the population is eligible for food stamps as permanent unemployment spreads to the suburbs. There are more homeless children than ever. Why are young people waiting to get involved?
Our destiny will not just be measured by the young people who wander in search of greener pastures, but also by those we steer into the prison pipeline through our inaction.