In 2004 when Duane Reed was recruited as president of the NAACP, he made a commitment to the community to serve two years. Reed says he has never been able to say no when it comes to helping out in his community, but after retiring from the corporate world he thought he would have time to do the things he enjoyed most, like spending time with his grandkids and fishing.
However, as president of the Minneapolis NAACP, Reed said, “Two years became four; Four years was not going to become six.”
Just last year, the national NAACP changed leadership to what Reed describes as a “younger model” in appointing 35-year-old Benjamin T. Jealous as their president. Years before this occurrence, Reed began mentoring Booker Hodges, now 31, in preparation for leadership of Minneapolis branch of the organization.
Only after accepting the appointment did Reed realized how taxing a position it was. “It’s time consuming,” Reed explains, “And until you get in the seat, you don’t know how much, and once you’re in it, you’re in it.”
During this mentoring period, though Hodges knew that he was being prepped as president, he says, “When [Reed] had said that he was ready to make this transition, it kind of caught me by surprise because I was expecting it to happen two years down the road at least.”
The NAACP under Reed
Over the last four years, Reed has spent much of his time at the State Capitol during the legislative sessions lobbying on issues regarding education and joining in with other organizations to draft a brief to move through imminent domain legislation.
His main focus, however, was to bring credibility back to the NAACP Minneapolis branch: “We literally [had] one [foot] on a banana peel and the other one in the grave when it came to this branch five years ago. We’ve turned this branch around with [an] infusion of people who wanted to do the work, and we did it without money.”
Reed says that they have not been successful due to fundraisers, which he describes as the lifeblood of the organization. Nor was their success due to a constant flow of grants from other organization or membership dues, but through networking.
Over the years, the organization has developed strong links to community resources: “Booker will be able to pick up the phone and call the attorney general’s office,” Reed explains, “The feds…the FBI [and]…not get the administrative assistants but get a direct line to people [with authority].”
He believes that the NAACP is a stronger organization than it was five years ago not only because of members or volunteers (he estimates only 100 currently active members), but also through leveraging the organization’s historical nature.
“Me or Booker, [or] anyone that come after him, will only be as strong as the name of the NAACP.”
Is the NAACP still relevant?
One of the biggest misconceptions of the NAACP, Reed says, is in comparing it to its sister organization, the Urban League. Where the Urban League has paid staff, the NAACP exists on an all-volunteer membership, with paid offices at the national level only.
Both Reed and Hodges agree that if youth and young adults do not understand the historical relevance of the NAACP, they may not see the relevance of the organization in their lives. “The old folks [know] it’s relevant and maybe folks my age in their sixties know it’s still relevant,” Reed explains, “but I would imagine folks in the teens and 20s and the 30s don’t see the relevancy because they haven’t lived the relevancy.”
Reed says that the volunteer-based nature of their work creates a challenge in community participation. “If someone says there is some money to be made, you can find a thousand people lined up in the name of advocacy.” Without financial compensation, however, Reed says, people say they don’t have time.
“You have to be firmly passionate about what you are doing as far as leadership,” Reed continues. “If you don’t have that, you’re going to chase the dollar.”
The NAACP under Hodges
Hodges says that there are two central issues that NAACP will focus on under his leadership: economics and education. He believes that the infusion of new jobs created through the stimulus package can make a big difference in communities of color.
He plans to ensure that people of color are not left out of the equation by first drafting a letter to both the Minneapolis and State elected officials, making them aware that the NAACP will be monitoring the number of position filled by people of color. Hodges says that in the past they have had more concerns at the City level than the State. The reconstruction of the 35W bridge actually exceeded expected numbers as it related to percentages of people of color employed, according to Hodges.
Secondly, he says that the NAACP will do all that it can to get the word out to the community. “These jobs are out there, and you don’t need to go to a special school to pour cement… You can have a felony on your record, and you can still get one of these good-paying jobs.”
Reed says that the jobs generated by the stimulus package are only a short-term fix. “Long term, we have to instill [in] our kids that this is a global economy. You have to view it a little more global than your own backyard.”
That’s why Hodges believes education is so important. “[With] outcome-based education, [kids] are forced to sit still for hours on end,” he explains. “What we want to do is go back and take a hard look at [our] educational curriculum, and it’s something that we really haven’t done for a while.”
“We want them to learn how not to go to school to get As, Bs and Cs,” Reed says, “but to go to school to learn to think… Until we get to that point, we’re just going around in a circle.”
Hodges says that as he looks at the current NAACP administration, it is clear that education is what made a difference. He describes the new administration as “a group of young professionals” who don’t easily fit into the mold of what people usually view as activists. Like Hodges, most are born and raised in Minnesota.
He says his job as a deputy sheriff in Dakota County makes his role unique as leading the NAACP, and he admits it may present some challenges.
Even during Reed’s administration, education has been the driving force of the NAACP. It was the NAACP that led the lawsuit against Minneapolis Public Schools that resulted in the Choice is Yours Program, allowing students access to all public schools within the state, regardless of what city students reside in.
“Education is really what’s going to affect the outcome of our community and the health of our community,” Hodges says.
He plans a much more visible role for the Minneapolis NAACP than that of the past few years by writing regular columns in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He also envisions a public access television show to attract kids and all people from the community to the NAACP.
“It’s a tremendous organization,” Hodges says, “and I just feel that I got involved initially from a historical standpoint… We have to learn from the lesson of the past, but at the same time, it’s time to move forward to a different era, but we need the support of our elders.”
As for Reed, “Obviously I’m not going to drop off the end of the earth,” he says of his involvement with the NAACP. “Just like people mentored me, I’m going to mentor him every step of the way.”
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader response to firstname.lastname@example.org.