It may be 95 years old now, but the Seattle/King County NAACP has never been more vital.
After celebrating last week with a gala dinner and a timely lecture by Michael Eric Dyson, the organization's president, James Bible, took some time to speak with The Skanner on the group's mission and what's in store for the group's next 95 years.
Bible says that young people – fighting for their rights and improving their future — are increasingly at the heart of this, the oldest NAACP chapter west of the Mississippi.
"At this stage, one of the things we're thinking is of critical importance is a youth empowerment movement," he said. "We're hoping to create an environment where children, especially children of color and children of lower economic status, feel empowered to believe that college is the expectation for them, that is absolutely our goal."
The list of NAACP successes over the past year is documented on Bible's NAACP blog. They include the Seattle King County African American Legislative Day at the Seattle City Hall and in the King County Council Chambers, held in mid-June; the annual Martin Luther King County Rally for Public Education; the Police Accountability Panel, which convened in communities across King County; health fair; a new Youth Council; and active executive committees mobilized to advocate in hundreds of civil rights complaints every year.
"We'll continue to address the other issues in terms of economic justice, police accountability, political action and whatnot," Bible told The Skanner. "But we really want to focus on building up our youth."
Bible has a lot to say about Mayor Greg Nickles' new Youth Violence Prevention Initiative.
"Well, first I would say that we have a common interest in making sure that our children are safe and have the opportunity to achieve to the highest degree," he said. "Where our issues diverge is in relation to how to best achieve such a goal."
He said the organization worries that the initiative threatens funding for already-existing programs that have demonstrated success, such as Communities United of Rainier Beach, and Get Off the Streets, and programs run by El Centro de la Raza.
"We're concerned that programs that are currently in place that are already on the ground and running are being cut in exchange for programs that may not be in a place where they're up and running," Bible said. "We welcome the additional resources in terms of the other social programs that will be created, but we think that those programs that are currently in existence and already serving the population that's targeted should remain in place."
Bible and the NAACP say that the language on youth violence prevention efforts needs to be changed – to youth empowerment.
"So often we project upon our kids this perception that they're not as good, that they're not as capable, that they're gang members, that they're thugs, whatever negative connotation that you may hear," he said. "Rarely do we talk about empowerment and achievement, and I think that's where we need to go in terms of the youth violence initiative."
Bible says city and county officials should also look at better support for even younger kids.
"If they're really truly seeking to make a change, what they'd do is address another population that's been ignored – kindergarten through fifth grade," he said. "They're at a very interesting stage in terms of taking in the information that they see and if there is an increase in violence, they experience that, too."
Bible says that the important thing to pay attention to is whether or not the social programs promised as part of the so-called "gang bill" passed in the legislature this year will really be implemented.
"They initially promised all of these social programs, and once the rubber met the road they cut all the social programs, and now with the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, they announced that they're cutting $1.7 million of that — and they have promised that they'll still keep the police that they're going to add to the schools," he said. "So the social service components that may make the long-term difference are slowly being taken away from the overall programs."
Bible told The Skanner that, although his full-time career as an attorney, combined with his NAACP work, means that "I never sleep," his involvement with the group is a lifelong commitment.
"I think that in terms of my own personal vision I hope to support civil and human rights for as long as I possibly can," he said. "I think the NAACP is a wonderful avenue for those that want to reach out and help others, and I think that as a volunteer organization it's imperative that we have more people reach out and join, and not only join as passive participants but really join as active participants."
He said of the things the group's members focus on "is the number of people that hang out around high schools that seek to be mentors that are not healthy in nature," he says.
"What we have to do is also be at the schools — the doctors, the lawyers, the professors, those that have graduated from college those that have full time jobs," he said. "We need to be present in our community in such a way that our kids see us, and not only see us but have an understanding of how we actually get to the places where we are."
Bible's blog is at http://jbible-naacp.blogspot.com/2008/10/95-years-of-protecting-civil-rights-in.html.