A couple of years ago the Portland chapter of the NAACP could be summed up in three letters. R.I.P. Sure, the civil rights group had a long history of successful activism stretching back to the 40s. But for some years the group's influence and reputation had been in decline.
Not any longer. This month, on Sept. 27, the NAACP will install a new, youthful and dynamic set of leaders. The resurgence began last April with the election of Charlene McGee as president. The 28-year old Liberian-born Multnomah County health advocate went along to a meeting to join the NAACP and left it as president of the organization. Last week, the group named its new executive committee and officers – 1st Vice President H.L. Hodge, Ph.D; 2nd Vice President Cashauna Hill; Secretary Favoure Miller; Assistant Secretary Lashondra Lincoln; Treasurer Jamal Abdullah; Assistant Treasurer David Kong; and Executive Committee Member Jeff Clark, communications.
But as with any organization that has been absent for a period of time, McGee and the others will have their share of challenges to overcome. Vancouver NAACP President Earl Ford says if Portland wants to regain the membership it once had, they need to reconnect their strong ties to the area's churches. And their focus should be simple – civil rights. The rest is down to details.
"Our core mission of the NAACP is civil rights," he said.
Putting himself in McGee's shoes, Ford says he wouldn't try and duplicate some of the vital services provided by other organizations – youth missions, economic development, etc. – but help support them while focusing entirely on being an advocate for justice and fairness.
With the NAACP absent, Ford said the Vancouver branch, as well as many Portland institutions, acted to fill the void as best they could.
"All you can do is try and fill the gap," he said. "That's why we got so many calls from Portand … and I didn't have anybody to refer them to."
Marcus Mundy, president of the Urban League of Portland, said they receive a number of calls that are typically fielded by the NAACP.
"Where we could, we helped them," he said. "I'm just happy the NAACP is back."
That was a sentiment made by nearly everybody who responded to the Skanner's inquiry.
Mundy went on to say the Urban League had organizational troubles of its own in the late 1990s. He says after nearly a decade of rebuilding, the organization has finally hit its stride and while it doesn't offer as many services as it did before, the services they do offer – education and youth development, senior and low-income advocacy, etc. – are enhancing the community. With an active NAACP, Mundy is hopeful they will be able to assist those experiencing discrimination.
"We are all needed," Mundy said. "Because real problems still persist."
Roy Jay, a past president of the Portland NAACP and president of the African American Chamber of Commerce, says he's "100 percent supportive of what they're trying to do."
After a three year hiatus, it's about time for the organization to have another chance, Jay said. While he acknowledges national support will be minimal, he's confident the group of young professionals that has assembled will be up for the job. But they must do one thing: – "They will have to be community conscious" and avoid letting personal vendettas or interests get involved in the mission of the organization.
Jeff Clark, the Portland NAACP's communication specialist, said the organization will be highlighting several issues as it works to build up membership – gentrification; school closures, health care, police profiling.
The organization's young leadership could help it connect with younger Portlanders.
"One of the biggest cures (for an ailing organization) is to have some youth and be a driving force for change," Clark said.
A different organization might make the mistake of thinking someone like McGee was too young and reserve leadership posts for someone with experience. But youthful energy seems to abound in the McGee family. Charlene MCGee's brother, Charles, 22, ran for school board last year (he lost) and is the director of the Black Parent Initiative, a pro-education group (see The Skanner, Sept. 5 "A Million Fathers"). Charlene McGee, 25, herself works at the Multnomah County Health Department working to reduce the disparities of STD infection across ethnic lines.
Only time will tell if the community will embrace the new NAACP chapter as it once did, said Jay. A lot will depend on the commitment of the officers and members and what they're able to accomplish. "They have to walk the walk and talk the talk," he said.