Black leaders from my generation won’t find inspiration at the NAACP

by Kenya Woodard

I made it a priority to join my college’s NAACP branch when I enrolled in the fall of 1997. But just a year later, I let my membership lapse. While I’m sure part of my disassociation was due to my participation in other activities, I do remember feeling disconnected from the 102-year-old civil rights organization.

I was reminded of that split after reading about the NAACP’s controversial lawsuit against New York City as well as the accusation from the group’s New York President, Hazel Dukes, that persons of color who support the decision to co-locate traditional and charter schools in the same building – essentially, expanding school choice – are “doing the business of slave masters.” Luckily, as the public affairs officer of a nonprofit organization that strives to provide school choice options to low-income students, and who also happens to be black, I didn’t take Dukes’ raw language personally.

By Tuesday, Dukes somewhat softened her tone in an interview with NY1, telling a reporter that she wasn’t against charter schools and that “parents have a right for choice.” The motive for the NAACP’s lawsuit, she said, is the pursuit of “justice and equality.”

But the lawsuit and Dukes’ initial remarks have cast the organization as out of touch and divisive. New York Daily News columnist Stanley Crouch captured it best when he wrote in his June 6 column:

The suit is proof of how low a great civil rights organization has fallen since its days of advocating for racial equality in the face of tremendous hatred.

… The NAACP significantly shifted the American racial consciousness in 1954 when it won the Brown vs. Board of Education decision before the Supreme Court. This began a systematic dismantling of Southern segregation once and for all.

So what has happened since? Not knowing when to hold or when to fold, the NAACP refuses to look at public education with any kind of nuance. If it did, it would understand that the UFT and its allies are only hurting the push for fair schools that began with the Brown victory more than a half-century earlier.

As a columnist for my college paper, I penned a piece expressing my frustration at the lack of baton-passing from Dukes’ generation to mine, asking the question, “Are there any black leaders emerging from my generation?”

In the years since that column was published, I’ve surmised that maybe it’s not prudent for my peers to look to the older generation for a tap on the shoulder. Dukes’ lashing out and the NAACP’s lawsuit reaffirmed that belief.