Ben Chavis Takes Over

May 04, 1993

Yesterday was the Rev. Ben Chavis Jr.'s first day on the job as executive director of the NAACP, but the organization's new leader was already making news. Since being picked to succeed Benjamin L. Hooks, Mr. Chavis has been meeting with street gang members in South Central Los Angeles to fashion a truce between warring factions there and he plans to launch a nationwide campaign to recruit more young people as NAACP members.

"The one thing I've learned is that these young people are talented and intelligent," Mr. Chavis said. "All they need is a chance in life. We have to reach out and take more of a responsibility to help them get an education, a job and be productive."

On Saturday, Mr. Chavis gave a speech at Medgar Evers College in New York calling for greater efforts to bridge the economic and social gap between middle-class blacks and the poor by working for the economic empowerment of inner-city communities. He also said the NAACP will move toward opening its membership to include Hispanics and other people of color.

Other goals outlined by Mr. Chavis include establishing an endowment for the NAACP, organizing more international chapters in Africa and the Caribbean and strengthening the local chapters in this country.

Mr. Chavis' ideas come as a breath of fresh air to an organization whose relevance in the post-civil rights era had been questioned by many blacks. His focus on young people and the problems of the inner-city poor represent a significant shift away from the legalistic approach adopted by the NAACP for much of its history. Mr. Chavis seems bent on setting a new course for the nation's oldest civil rights organization. Judging from last week's productive efforts he has already gotten a running start toward fulfilling that ambitious goal.

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