Friday, June 01, 2012

Today’s Cleveland NAACP, Part I

We start by acknowledging that we are conflicted about writing this piece. Our conflict is rooted in being personally involved in activities connected to the organization that make us want to share information that some might prefer go unreported at this stage.

At stake are issues of transparency and change and confidentiality. In the background is the running argument in my household over definitions of “journalist” and “blogger”. I faced a similar conflict in this space once before, related to the corrupt former leadership of the local Democratic Party.

I was not active in the party at all, just a run-of-the-mill registered Democrat. But when I could no longer accept the continued incumbency of [now-established felons] Jimmy Dimora and Frank Russo as party leaders, I started asking questions, beginning with my local Democratic city leaders, and then others, until I finally connected with a group of like-minded party members. We eventually formed a group called Cuyahoga Democrats for Principled Leadership and agitated from within for reform. Our successes were modest but important.

When I wrote about CD4PL I disclosed my involvement up front in a footnote. There were some in that loose-knit group who would have preferred that none of our blogger members write about our activities. But it all seemed to work out in the end, not only for the CD4PL and the Party. Real Deal readers are perhaps like many blog followers who seem to appreciate an engaged perspective, especially when appropriately disclosed up front.

Longtime Real Dealers know that I have commented on the local NAACP morass on several occasions, perhaps most notably regarding  the organization’s November 2010 election of officers. [See here, here, and here.] 

In some ways, the problems of the former county government and the Cleveland NAACP stem from the same root causes: malfeasance, misfeasance, and nonfeasance abetted by long term incumbency, archaic organizational structure, lack of transparency, grossly shoddy procedures, self-serving wheeling and dealing, wholesale mismanagement, the disparagement of hard-working professional staff. The list goes on, but I will add only one other key element: gross constituent apathy, gross constituent apathy, and gross constituent apathy.

If you are a member of a community and you are not working to be part of a solution to the community’s issues, you are a part of the problem.
• • • 

Like many local African Americans, I stopped supporting the Cleveland NAACP as it transitioned from being one of our civic institutions whose organizational dysfunction was within tolerable limits to a fiefdom where one man’s word was the law. [Note: Neither locally nor nationally has the NAACP ever been strictly a ”black” organization: its founders were black and white, its leadership and its membership was long integrated, its stated mission for over a century always rooted in the deepest principles of the US Constitution and the noblest ideals of the Declaration of Independence. But at least locally, as black people became more assertive during the turbulent 1960s, many white people either fled or were driven out of hitherto integrated organizations like the NAACP and Karamu.][1]

Of course, as our parents told us repeatedly, ignoring problems doesn’t make them go away and often makes them worse. And for twenty years, the Cleveland NAACP, once a mighty force that in its heyday reportedly boasted 25,000 card-carrying members, lost sight of its mission, its soul, and its moral force. It was a black problem, but the whole community suffered from the lack of a strong progressive voice, in the same manner as it has suffered from its dysfunctional political party dynamics. [I could insert another Cliffsnote here about the county Republicans and white flight but, again, that’s grist for a trilogy and this is but a blog.]

When someone finally deigned to run against George Forbes for NAACP president in 2010, I wrote a few pieces [linked above] calling for Mr. Forbes’ defeat. That he was even running for an unprecedented tenth term was farcical. No one had ever served even five consecutive years before Forbes, and here he was going for twenty consecutive years of control. 

For some time he had been using his political skill to orchestrate scenes where he would threaten to resign, only to be urged to continue “leading” the Branch by windowless followers who could not conceive of the depths to which the black community would fall without the Kingfish, er, King/Father to protect us.

These charades became such a part of his stock and trade that the Plain Dealer reported them as fact in the aftermath of Forbes’ reelection in 2010. And they created such a fantasy that when Forbes finally walked away by newspaper notice in late April, some board members remained disbelievers.

 The resignation — announced offhandedly via the Plain Dealer, which quoted Forbes as saying he had actually resigned from effective December 31, 2011 — was akin to the captain of that Costa Concordia cruise ship who snuck away after running the luxury cruise ship aground. Each left behind a trail of wreckage.

Forbes’ resignation was accepted by the Branch’s executive committee [i.e., its trustees] earlier this month, and prompted postponement of the Branch’s centennial Freedom Fund Dinner, originally set for June,  until September 8.

All of that is background for what promise to be better days ahead for the Cleveland NAACP. Branch elections are scheduled for this November. As we move around town, we sense renewed interest in the organization. New people, young people, former members, are becoming alive to the importance of a strong, viable Cleveland NAACP.
 • • •

A strong local chapter could certainly play a vital role in such areas as our lopsided and inequitable local systems of criminal justice, education, and economic development.

Our Sunday post will report on some healthy signs of the local’s rejuvenation and will hopefully include an interview with new president James L. Hardiman, who is serving out the balance of the last Forbes term.

[1] That’s a quick and dirty Cliffsnote of a more complex historical issue and social phenomenon. But this is a post, not a book.

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