- Faith & Family
In October 2006, the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP was in the midst of great controversy, facing a membership crisis. The result was the first contested presidency in many years with former branch president Bishop Victor T. Curry [senior pastor of New Birth Baptist Church Cathedral of Faith International] in a winner-takes-all contest against then Vice President Shirley Johnson. The controversy was
featured on the front page of The Miami Times with a salient quotation from community activist Tangela Sears.
“Leadership in the Black community is suffering from mediocrity and the NAACP needs an aggressive and uncontrolled [by others outside of the Black community] leader. It’s time for a serious change.”
Given Sears’ comments, one could easily say the more things change, the more they stay the same. Particularly when we look at the perceived ineffectiveness of today’s NAACP. While membership numbers in Miami-Dade once boasted 5,000 during the 1980s, in 2006 that number had plummeted to less than 500. Now, with the departure of Curry, 52, who has served for the past three years as the organization’s president and with an important presidential election just months away, the perennial question of the NAACP’s relevance has reared its head once more.
Curry looks to new opportunities
“I believe the NAACP can still be relevant but because of the many different layers of the organization, it’s very difficult to maneuver the way you think the people in your community want you to move,” he said. “I have nothing but respect for the NAACP — at the national, state and local levels. But my time leading the group has come and gone.”
Curry recently accepted a seat on the national board for the National Action Network [NAN], the non-profit civil rights organization founded by Rev. Al Sharpton in 1991. He will also serve as president for the newly-established Miami-Dade chapter of NAN. Replacing Curry at the NAACP is Dr. Bradford Brown, 74. Brown, who is white, has been a member for 52 years and feels that the color of his skin is irrelevant.
“I’ve been president of a local branch before and have experience in the organizational structure so I am well prepared for the job,” he said. “Nothing has changed in terms of our goals and direction since he [Curry] stepped down. The NAACP traces its beginnings to 1909 so we’re a long distance runner. I think we’re just as relevant today because racism has not gone away. Conditions have changed and the south is no longer a place operating with apartheid-like laws but at the same time, the underlying issues continue as does discrimination. No one is being killed when we attempt to register voters today but we still have unequal political power. We still have a long way to go and it is still the NAACP’s position to seek to reduce the impact of racism and discrimination in this country.”
Words from state and national leaders
National President Ben Jealous says the NAACP is needed now more than ever.
“We are living through the greatest wave of legislative assaults on voting rights in more than a century,” he said. “In the past year, more states have passed more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than at any time since the rise of Jim Crow. And when the tide rises, we at the NAACP must ensure that the forces of freedom and justice rise even higher.”
NAACP State President Adora Obi Nweze, who founded the Miami-Dade branch in 1988, applauded the efforts of Curry.
“In the NAACP, if you’re not doing an effective job, they don’t allow you to have a chapter,” she said. “The branch is doing a phenomenal job. And Curry is still a member as am I. If they need our help, we’ll both be right there. Registering people to vote is just one of our tasks. We are now looking at problems related to education, health, economic development, civic engagement and criminal justice. And working with other groups has become something that we see has added benefits for all of us. Collaborating makes sense when you are trying to tackle cutting edge issues.”
“Taking over NAN here in Miami, the key is to localize the national vision just like I once did with the NAACP,” Curry said. “But both groups have similar tasks ahead of them. Sure we have to register and educate voters. But we also have to make sure they have the proper ID so they can vote and then we have to get them to the polls.”
By D. Kevin McNeir