JoAnn Hardesty gears up to galvanize some new energy into the Portland chapter of the NAACP, now it its 101st year of operation. One of her first moves to rebuild the organization is to recruit 101 new members in commemoration of the renowned organization’s tenure. Photo provided by Joann Hardesty
A seasoned community activist, JoAnn Hardesty’s latest distinction sees her at the helm of the NAACP as the newly appointed president of the civil rights organization’s Portland chapter. Hardesty boasts a long resume that includes heavily steeped in social justice. A short list of distinctions including serving on the boards of Portland Community Media; US Action and Coalition for a Livable Future and was also elected to the Oregon legislature serving as a state representative from 1995 to 2001.
She hosts her own radio show on KBOO (90.7 FM) ‘Voices from the Edge’ which covers political matters ranging from government, race and environment every Thursday at 8 a.m. Hardesty took the time to answer some questions about her plans in her latest post as the historic NAACP Portland chapter celebrates its 101st year in operation.
TSN: The Portland branch of the NAACP owns the distinction as being the oldest continuously chartered branch west of the Mississippi, and has a storied history in the city. Though recent years have been a bit quiet, the group's work has continued in a number of civil rights issues in the city. What is your plan of direction for the NAACP as the new Portland president?
Hardesty: I’m a results-oriented kind of gal. The NAACP’s mission is to ensure the political, educational, social and economic equality of all persons, and to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination. My goal for this, our 101st year, is to rebuild and revitalize Chapter 1120B so we are prepared to carry out this mission. My leadership team and I—at the outset-- committed to building our membership base, becoming more collaborative, developing a Youth Council, and celebrating a century of service to this community. Initiatives which follow will come from aspirations of inspired members.
TSN: What challenges are you facing?
Hardesty: The spontaneous reactions of so many have been encouraging. I’m actually humbled when folks respond to the board’s campaign– to immediately recruit 101 new members– with, “How can I help?” I see relief in people’s eyes, as if their hopes are finally going to get serious attention in an organized way.
One challenge has been to get folks to understand that right from the beginning NAACP has been inclusive; membership is open to all races. We face big challenges externally. Racial injustice has a way of perpetuating itself in a community that thinks itself progressive and occupying a post-racial era. I’m hoping one result will be to make sustained civil rights advocacy attractive to influencers who already have serious demands on their time. We’ll need folks who understand advocacy training, economic development, city planning processes and legislative policy. I’m committed to leadership development. We’ll need those who’ve achieved success to help elevate those who’ve been on the downside of power.
TSN: Last time you were involved with this organization more than a decade ago there was some major internal turmoil. For you to return, now as the group's headship is pretty major. What's the significance of your return to the NAACP, particularly in the position you're in now?
Hardesty: Frankly, I was embarrassed by some choices Chapter 1120B was making. Realizing the need for a powerful NAACP is as vital as it’s ever been, I re-connected two years ago. I began to understand that, not only was the group failing to wield influence as the U.S. Department of Justice sought help in the most significant Portland civil rights initiative in a generation. The chapter’s lack of organization and leadership had a negative impact on initiatives sought by the Alaska-Oregon-Washington State Area Conference as well. I thought, “Not on my watch.” I’m unwilling to sit on the sidelines and allow this institution to die or be co-opted.
When I served as first Vice President in the late ‘90s, we campaigned against Willamette Week, over a cartoon they published which we perceived as racist. Chapter 1120B called upon advertisers to pull ads until Willamette Week printed an apology in their paper. Within a week we won our demand. That is the power the NAACP has, when it operates as intended. I hope it’s significant that folks who’ve known this power will return to full participation. I want to be one among many.
TSN: A bombing outside of the NAACP office in Colorado is being called a possible hate crime by the FBI as the continue to investigate the crime. The Southern Poverty Law Center says NAACP has been the target of 8 bombings since 1965. All opposition to the civil and human rights does not take form in such extreme violence, but how are you prepared to take the group forward in the face of inevitable roadblocks?
Hardesty: This latest bombing reminds me that – over my lifetime – good people have lost their lives when demanding justice. Read the comments section beneath racial justice news stories in Portland; we know hate is a vibrant, local phenomenon. Speak with survivors in families who’ve filed wrongful death lawsuits against those in authority over Portland Police and you’ll understand police intimidation extends beyond the racial profiling which led to callous police beatings and homicides. These are things to fear. Remember too, that the FBI has a history of infiltration and destabilization in the civil rights movement.
It’s my hope that the reputation I've built in this community over the last 30 years will be a protective cloak but, essentially, I seek safety in numbers. Distributing leadership among a broad base of involved, committed members may make me less of a target. I hope we’ll all look at the expected smear campaigns, public misrepresentation, and inter-organizational strife as an indication that this generation is being effective in carrying out the organization’s mission. Personally, I think it is White people’s jobs, to eliminate the hate that arises from their racial cohorts. Also, we can alert them to miscarriage of justice, or equal opportunities denied … but the responsibility for corrective action rests with our very White community who’ve seen these systems perpetuated.
TSN: The energy and ingenuity of the youth have long been at the cornerstone of movements like that of the civil rights. Are young people welcome at the NAACP table?
Hardesty: Not only are young people welcome, a Youth Council is required of any NAACP branch. We are recruiting 20 people under age 17 for our youth chapter. We’re asking new members to also cover the cost of a youth membership … to get a mission-critical goal initiated. I’ve realized for some time that substantial, social change arises when youth are making vital demands. They have energy and a willingness to take risks that others have aged out of. I’m pretty sure that when they understand the autonomy that body has – young Portlanders will find it attractive to make a commitment. It’s likely to be an empowering experience for them; it will be possible to expand their networks statewide and beyond not to mention find others who share their motivating passions.
This is a volunteer gig. I’m a broad-based community organizer. I hope readers will understand our leadership team intends to be inclusive and coalitional. We’ll recruit mindful of folks’ passions. Whether it’s fair wages, climate justice, immigration reform, campaign finance restructuring, or concerns over New Jim Crow’s school-to-prison pipelines that has turned out thousands to hear my sister Michelle Alexander. The Portland Chapter seeks influence it hasn’t had in a while. To do that, we’re going to need all hands on deck.