Five years ago, a young thirtysomething hit the national scene as the new president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Benjamin Todd Jealous was the youngest person to ever take the helm of this venerable institution. It was a stunning confluence of the group’s youngest leader meeting the oldest and largest civil rights organization. With his youth and vigor, he promised to make changes and bring the organization back into relevance.
While Jealous was at the helm of the NAACP, he transformed a rather listless civil rights organization into a robust, engaging and crusading association, as it was in its halcyon days. From fighting the death penalty, to re-enfranchising felons, securing voting rights across the country and addressing the killing of Trayvon Martin, the NAACP has been on the front lines.
Under his leadership, there has been a new birth of cooperation. The NAACP, the National Urban League and the National Action Network have all come together around the common cause of justice for our communities. And with that cooperation, much progress has been achieved.
Jealous promised to make changes. He promised relevance, youth and movement. He promised a fiscally healthy association, and he will leave the NAACP stronger and more vibrant than when he arrived. He has kept his promises.
He leaves the NAACP too early for some. But in his estimation, it is the right time. Right on time to be there as his 1-year-old son begins his journey, and right on time to keep his promise to his 7-year-old daughter that by her eighth birthday, he would be a much more available daddy.
Every civil rights leader has two masters, the movement and family, and knowing how to embrace both and not leave either disappointed is an art. Jealous has navigated that fine line resourcefully and with great finesse, and with this decision to step down in January of 2014, he has kept all of his promises to the movement and to his family. Both he and his constituents know he has served two masters well.