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NAACP in the Black

HERB BOYD Special to the AmNews | 7/27/2011, 4:16 p.m.

"The crisis is over at the headquarters of the NAACP," declared Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the nation's largest and oldest civil rights organization during its 102nd annual convention in Los Angeles last Monday. Jealous was not referring to the organization's house organ-the cherished publication, like its parent, is doing very well.

What Jealous was crowing about was the NAACP's membership, which over the last six months has registered a 24 percent increase rate, making that three years in row of significant growth. Moreover, he said, "We are in the black, and it's good to be in the black."

And to what does he attribute this phenomenal turnout around in a nation mired in an economic quagmire? "It has a lot to do with leadership, and that starts right at the top with Chairman Roslyn Brock, right down to our staff and through the tireless efforts of branch leaders across the country," he explained in a later interview.

Yes, there was much to be optimistic about, he continued, but all was not rosy. There are still a multitude of challenges to overcome, including ending the death penalty, reducing hate crimes, and stopping a government that spends more capital on state pens than the Penn States.

"The dilemma we face," he said during his speech, "is to obtain what we are fighting for while holding on to what we have." That paradox amounted, he lamented, to "protecting our voting rights [while] fighting to get voting rights for the formerly incarcerated."

There was sporadic and scattered applause as Jealous cited an extended misery index, particularly the ongoing menace of the Tea Party fanatics who seem intent on holding the government hostage as the debt ceiling deadline looms. But he brought the huge, half-filled ballroom of delegates to its feet when he invoked the example of the righteous warrior Gideon from the Bible. "We must sound a mighty alarm...and is that Gideon's army among us this morning?" he asked.

"Are there any Gideons among us today?" Jealous repeated. "Are there any committed to leading our people out of America's crisis and into America's promise? And so as I take my seat today, I call upon each of you today-the fabric and the heart of this great association-to join me in rising up in this turbulent time.

"Let us rise up like Gideon in the face of unemployment and foreclosures!" he asserted. "Rise up like Gideon to defeat and turn back the attacks on our rights! Rise up like Gideon to defeat educational disparities and the re-segregation of our schools!

"Rise up like Gideon to defeat the increasing health disparities and rampant pollution in our communities," he said.

The audience was now on its feet. "Are you ready to go into battle?" he further incited. The resounding applause and cries of "Yes, we are," echoed from wall to wall, and Jealous had his army primed for protracted struggle.

Chairwoman Brock achieved a similar moment of epiphany during her address the previous day, repeatedly citing her theme "We can't let courage skip this generation," as she admonished the young among the hundreds of delegates to pick up the torch and carry in the fight against injustice and discrimination.