The members of Temple’s Progressive NAACP have learned how to take something old and make it new.
The 50-student offshoot of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has not only reworked its name, but uses black and gold instead of the organization’s trademark blue and gold.
Perhaps they choose to distinguish themselves from their 500,000-strong parent group because it has been criticized for being too old and elitist for the black community. Whatever the case, the group is worthy of their name.
“When people hear the name ‘NAACP,’ they think about the history,” said Janelle Ince, a sophomore accounting major and marketing and promotions co-chair of the Progressive NAACP. “We’re bringing it back. It’s not part of our history; it’s part of our future.”
It’s refreshing to hear that insight from my peers, a demographic everyone else seems to have written off. Unlike civil rights leaders, Jim Crow didn’t send us away from the drugstore lunch counter hungry. Instead, we know a strain of racism that deprives inner-city kids of quality education. In our world, young black men are brutalized by police because they resemble someone else. They can even be sentenced to years in prison for wielding sneakers as weapons.
When the latter happened to six teens in Jena, La., the Progressive NAACP mobilized, marched and collected money for the defendants’ legal fund. I’d like to think that’s exactly what a group of twenty-somethings would’ve done 45 years ago.
Yet their decision to deliver a heap of used sneakers – and a telling symbol of their discontent – to the parish district attorney’s doorstep represents their ‘progressive’ side. It’s a sign of a new spirit of activism emerging among us, one more concerned with making statements than with doing things the old way.
“If we’re going to go along with something, we’re not just going to drop it,” said Darius Alexander, senior biology and kinesiology student and Progressive NAACP president. “We’re going to keep going with it and fight for it.”
That never-back-down attitude should be the mark of young activists everywhere.
In all its inventiveness, the group isn’t without regard for the larger NAACP’s history. At its voter empowerment forum in October, they discussed the organization’s past battles against black voter disenfranchisement. Considering we witnessed the 2000 presidential election and are living under the leadership of a veritable loser, none of us are too far removed to understand that lesson.
I often think about how my friend’s grandmother told her, “Yours is the only generation that thinks freedom is free.”
It might seem to us that new racial tensions creep up every day, but our parents and grandparents know there’s never been a shortage of injustices to stand against. You and I have just been too comfortable sitting.
One thing’s for sure – complaining about racism has always been pointless without action. If nothing else, we should take away from the Progressive NAACP that the groundwork for change has already been laid by our forefathers. How high we build upon that foundation is a decision for us to make.
Benae Mosby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.