Tamika Mallory: Young and powerful new executive director of NAN

Maryam Abdul-Aleem | 4/12/2011, 4:38 p.m.

More and more women of color are making political and social moves throughout the country. From the first African-American first lady in the White House, to the first female Hispanic Supreme Court nominee, women are having ripple effects on the progress of change in policy initiatives, from the highest rungs of the political process to the grassroots level.

And now, Tamika Mallory, a young African-American single mother is going to be one of the new influential women who will be making her imprint on the political and social world with her new position at the National Action Network (NAN), which has more than 30 chapters across the country, as its new national executive director.

The announcement was made last Saturday. "It's an amazing experience" and another "bold ,move-making" step by Rev. Al Sharpton, who is the founder and still the president of NAN, to make her the new executive director, she said. "So many organizations are either old-boys' clubs or are run by older women," Mallory, just 28 years of age, told the Amsterdam News in an interview at NAN's Harlem headquarters. "It's definitely a defining moment for the organization and the movement," she said. The organization has evolved; Sharpton has gone from being looked at as a troublemaker to being a guest in the White House. "What we are dealing with is different than what we were dealing with four and five years ago."

Whenever there is an injustice or discriminatory act, people come to NAN to see what NAN is going to do about it. "People want to know if we are going to march, protest or boycott," she said lightheartedly while sitting at the head of a large conference table with one picture of Martin Luther King Jr., and another of Rev. Al Sharpton and President Obama to her right. "It's like command central" she said.

Mallory, who graduated from the college of New Rochelle in the Bronx with a communications degree, will be taking the reins of one of the most influential civil rights organization in the country: a civil rights organization that has tirelessly fought for social, racial and political justice since its inception in 1991.

But although Mallory is the new national executive director, she is not new to NAN. She has been the director of the Decency Initiative, which mobilized thousands of people in 21 cities across the country in 2007 against the use of the "B," "H," and "N" words. She has also been a pivotal voice in shedding light on issues of indecency in the music and media industries after Don Imus made derogatory statements against members of the Rutgers women basketball team. Through the Decency Initiative, she targeted radio stations, music stores and record companies that market, pack- age, produce and make their capital behind selling negative lyrics and stereotypes.

Mallory was also the co-producer of the Keepers of the Dream awards in 2007 that honors celebrities, politicians and people who NAN believes is keeping the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. alive. Celebrating her 29th birthday on Monday, Mallory told the Amsterdam News that she has always been socially conscious since growing up in an activist environment where her parents, Stanley and Voncile Mallory, respectively, were founding members of NAN. "I began to love it and make it my own," she said of NAN, after years of resisting going to rallies as a child on Saturday mornings. Her parents were born in the South in the '50s when there were very serious civil rights issues and movements going on, she said. Things were very different then. However, even though the country has its first African-American first lady--about which Mallory said is "the highest honor and example of what being a strong, professional, beautiful, mother, wife and woman" is all about-- there is still work to be done. She is following in her parents' footsteps by bringing her son Tarique, 10, who Mallory said is "socially conscious" and has already experienced acts of discrimination, under the same guiding force that she was under as a child.

Rev. Al Sharpton groomed, shaped and taught her about the importance of commitment and mentored her, but now she will be continuing the activist work that needs tending to today, so that people can live in an environment where 50 percent of Black males are not unemployed and Black police officers like Omar Edwards will not be "a shooting target for people who are not careful," she said, same thing with young males like Sean Bell. Mallory will connect and collaborate with other women, men and health advocacy groups to include and empower the youth, women and the community on all levels. "There are more intelligent, professional women than what you see in the media," like on reality shows such as "Flavor of Love."

Listen to older people and really absorb and reflect on the words that come out of their mouths, she said as a word of advice to the younger generation. "Nothing is worth selling your self-respect for," she said.