The NAACP is celebrating 75 years of its Youth and College Division today, March 9, 2010. This organization is special to me because of the impact it had on my life.
I can remember my first time learning about the NAACP as a student at Miles College in Fairfield, Alabama from my African American Studies professor, Beverly Hawk. I’d never learned of the history of the NAACP, I graduated from a school system that had no black history curriculum.
I’d heard of the NAACP, but not of its impact and relevance.
I remember joining the NAACP immediately following the lecture in 2003. I then transferred to the University of Alabama at Birmingham, where there was no NAACP chapter. I discovered this while looking online, so I posted a message on the school’s “I-Say” forum, it was a messaging tool used for students to communicate parties and topics before Facebook was invented.
On the forum, the student leadership office verified that there was no college chapter of the organization on campus. They responded that there was once a chapter but gave information of how to reactivate the chapter’s charter.
The reactivation process was two-fold:
1. Get reactivated by the NAACP.
2. Get reactivated by the University.
These were two separate processes that seemed like a Mt. Everest-sized mountain to climb.
After receiving this, I remember posting a message on the forum asking for students to respond if they were interested in starting a new NAACP chapter.
That group met on my birthday, Tuesday, August 19th 2003, in the musty UAB Rast Hall study room on the 3rd floor at 6:30pm.
From there we elected a president, vice president and secretary. I was the VP. My entire focus was on being at the university for a semester and transferring to Xavier, I remember not wanting the responsibility to lead the chapter.
I prayed for God’s will to be done. The next day, the president stepped down and I became acting president.
I was embraced by the NAACP Youth & College Division from day one.
I remember speaking to the National Office of the NAACP for the first time. Brandon T. Neal was Youth & College president at that time and Kweisi Mfume was the national president. I remember most vividly interacting over the phone with Ms. Alethea Bonello. She was helpful in getting the chapter off the ground from the Regional Office in Atlanta, GA, where she served as the Youth Field Director.
I can also remember being angry, emailing and calling her with issues. Experiencing leadership for the first time was very difficult. I didn’t know how to handle personalities, attitudes, people not understanding your vision, people not doing their job, but I was always informed; then encouraged by the Regional leadership.
I remember walking around campus with a jacket that had “NAACP” letters on it, not a fraternity’s. I knew exactly what my calling was at that time, civil rights.
Our chapter grew to a membership of 100 in a few years, a number that is almost unheard of in college chapters at historically white colleges/universities.
We were on the news many times holding the president of the university to her word about changing policy and meeting with her.
The NAACP built a healthy militant attitude within. I was never afraid to confront people over their racism and I was never afraid of what the University could have done because of my sometimes “militant” actions.
“Militant” in this case would be considered; holding protests, press conferences, confronting racism, holding political rallies/forums, and doing voter registration.
I remember creating a list of recommendations and sending them to the University that listed changes needed in its policy concerning intimidating literature and diversity.
From those recommendations, students and employees can see the changes that were made in the University’s policy just from that college student created, 3-page document.
The NAACP always had our backs.
We never got into a situation that the Regional Office did not fully educate us on or support. Walking down the aisle to receive our first award was an amazing feeling being named the “Best New Chapter,” then winning the “Most Outstanding Chapter” award for two years following at the Regional Conference. Excellence was the only option in serving the organization.
From this heightened position in the community, I remember always having a full weekly schedule with speaking engagements, board meetings, general meetings, executive meetings, teleconferences and workshops to attend. This load was put on top of a full-time class schedule, a full-time job, church activities and having a vibrant college-student social life.
Once I left the position as president, I have continued to be involved in the community and have advised other youth leaders within the NAACP ways to be effective in their calling and how to reactivate their college chapters.
I would have never gotten the opportunity to lead and make a difference if the NAACP did not allow its young people to have a voice and did not educate its youth leaders.
I will always support and encourage others to be a part of the NAACP. Today, I celebrate its 75 years of successfully nurturing and developing youth leadership.