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Reinstate Cornell Brooks

6/9/2017, 12:56 p.m.
Black people have fared best when our collective interests and goals are held paramount. We’ve made the greatest headway when ...

Dr. E. Faye Williams

Black people have fared best when our collective interests and goals are held paramount.  We’ve made the greatest headway when our assumed leaders are guided by principles of self-sacrifice above self-aggrandizement. I pray that we have the wisdom to remember and embrace these lessons learned “over a way that with tears has been watered ... through the blood of the slaughtered.”

Since 1909, the NAACP has been the most recognized and venerated civil rights organization in the United States. Most Americans respect and admire the NAACP.  Those of us 50 years old and older remember that, when intervening in civil rights matters, the NAACP often mitigated outcomes of interracial conflict to the benefit of often maligned African-American victims.

It’s said, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” A lapse of time often adds to that contempt. Outside of “the faithful,” the NAACP’s reputation as a relevant player in the civil rights arena had diminished. This perception was especially true among youths who were more likely to ask the question, “What have you done for me lately?”

While I am an NAACP life member and I’ve always seen its relevance, many people thought the organization had moved close to being irrelevant. Several episodes of questionable leadership did little to rehabilitate its reputation. For many, that changed in May 2014 with the selection of  the Rev. Cornell William Brooks as national NAACP president and CEO.

Lacking the bravado and ostentatiousness of many leaders of our community, Rev. Brooks came to the job as an experienced civil rights professional. A fourth generation A.M.E. minister and Yale-trained civil rights lawyer, Rev. Brooks was eminently qualified and well focused on directing the activities of the NAACP to meet contemporary imperatives. Three years ago, he inherited a staff demoralized by layoffs and uncertain funding. Now, fundraising is up and he had begun hiring additional staff to conduct the organization’s business.

In nearly three years, Rev. Brooks has led the NAACP with purpose, dignity and skillful determination. His “hands-on, lead by example” approach to activism has inspired a new generation of youths to pick up the mantle of the NAACP. We have seen substantial participation and the increased membership of young people. Young people were constantly seen with Rev. Brooks demonstrating consistent, targeted action and participation in activities that gave renewed meaning to the concept of peaceful and intelligent resistance to injustice.

Rev. Brooks is not a lip service leader. With the exception of being called away for related obligations, he walked every step of the two marches he organized between Ferguson and Jefferson City, Mo., and Selma, Ala., and Washington. The marchers and he became targets of racist snipers in Missouri and he remains under threat by domestic terrorists who would love nothing more than to stop his work.

Rev. Brooks’ testimony against the confirmation of Sen. Jeff Sessions as U.S. attorney general was topped only by his sit-in and arrest in the Birmingham offices of Mr. Sessions. He gave national attention to the fact that the NAACP was once again a genuine player in the fight against injustice. This revitalized NAACP attracted a new following and, accordingly, online memberships increased significantly.

For individuals and institutions alike, longevity can mistakenly be assumed to be the same as indispensability. Logic should inform that the only foundation of indispensability is in the sustainment of relevance. Under Rev. Brooks, the NAACP escaped the image of doing little and existing in outdated ineptitude to a state of true relevance.

Sadly, the NAACP executive board has chosen to take a step backward by not renewing Rev. Brooks’ contract. I pray that decision will be reversed.

Rev. Brooks was the right leader when he was chosen and remains the right leader for our challenging times. The board should reverse its ill-advised decision.

The writer is president of the National Congress of Black Women.