Monday, January 14, 2013

Challenges Ahead for New NAACP | More on Double Dipping

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Yesterday was a festive occasion for the Cleveland NAACP as a reported 300 people attended a worship-and-praise service disguised as an installation of the Branch’s new officers and Executive Committee. The event was held at Greater Abyssinia Baptist Church, where the newly installed branch president, Rev. Hilton Smith, and first vice president, Rev. E. T. Caviness, are associate and senior pastors, respectively.

The program was notable for several reasons, including its ecumenical outreach that saw participation from representatives of Methodist, Jewish, and Episcopal organizations, as well as several notables including US Chief Judge Solomon Oliver and former television anchor Eleanor Hayes.

The feel-good event included remarks from Smith outlining an ambitious agenda focused on education and mentoring, economic development, fair housing, mental health issues, and increased membership.

Underscoring just how difficult it will be to achieve these lofty goals was this statement from Smith, as reported in this online account:

"Our youth know nothing about the NAACP. We have to educate them, and re-educate them. We have some young professionals who are Uncle Toms, and we made them that way. They have to be taught the history." — Rev. Hilton Smith, Cleveland NAACP president

Whatever Rev. Smith meant by this remark, and whom he may have had in mind will have to await explanation on a different day. But the remark has already raised many eyebrows.

An accurate telling of the NAACP’s century-old body of work might reflect the organization’s moving in the eyes of many from progressive to radical to a period where, in the 1960s, amidst some the grandest days of civil rights, NAACP leaders were denounced as “Uncle Toms” by more aggressive civil rights organizations.

Smith’s statement does underscore the continuing debate in large parts of the black community over issues racial identity and racial solidarity. A lot of African Americans sense in the hostility of many whites towards President Obama because his election is a reminder that the United States is numerically every day becoming less and less of a white country. By the same token, many black people — including apparently, Rev. Smith — still side with the recently discharged sports commentator, Rob Parker, who we discussed here last week.

Parker was perhaps reading from the same textbook as Rev. Smith, questioning whether the highly-touted Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was “black enough” because, among things, he has a white fiancĂ©e and is even rumored to be a Republican.

This leads me to make a couple of suggestions for the Branch [btw, I am a dues-paying member]. First, let’s refrain from personal characterizations, demonizing, and ad hominem attacks on those with whom we may disagree.  Let’s talk instead about issues, finding common ground among ourselves and with others, and solving problems.

Second, if the local Branch truly wants to reach out to young adults — especially those who acknowledge having at least one if not two feet in the black community [by virtue of birth, marriage, cultural orientation, upbringing, etc.] and who deny that having white neighbors, advanced education, or senior positions in white bastions of power and privilege, makes them by definition any less rooted in the black community — let’s have some properly moderated public discussions that air these very issues.

The open and ecumenical approach symbolized by the selection of the eleven [!] speakers at yesterday’s program needs to be replicated in deed by any NAACP spokespersons who want to argue in favor of equity and fairness.

Black History Month would be a perfect time to start!

More on Double Dipping

We wrote last week about the disdain for his constituents shown by Cleveland Councilman Ken Johnson in his request to be reappointed by his colleagues just days after resigning from his seat so that he could collect both his salary and an enhanced pension, and how equal disdain shown by those colleagues for their institution and their constituents in overwhelmingly approving this legal but myopic maneuver.

We would not be so down on Councilman Johnson if he had followed the approach of Roy Jech in Parma. Jech resigned his council seat on December 31 for the same reason as Johnson: unless he retired in 2012 his future pension benefits would lessen upon subsequent retirement. But Jech, rather than seek reappointment, will wait and ask voters for reelection.

We think that shows a proper respect for those whose support made the pension possible in the first place.

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