Youth, economic issues on NAACP chief's agenda

July 23, 1994|By James Bock | James Bock,Sun Staff Writer

Buoyed by an NAACP convention that bolstered his support, the Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. says he will reach out to youth and stress economic issues in guiding the Baltimore-based civil rights group through the rest of 1994.

Today Dr. Chavis, the NAACP's executive director, is to lead a South Carolina rally to protest the flying of the Confederate battle flag above that state's Capitol dome.

The protest exemplifies the militant stance he has adopted in recruiting young blacks to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He says he aims to boost the 85-year-old organization's membership from 675,000 to 1 million by 1996.

The protest is set for Myrtle Beach, S.C., a summer tourist center, "to send a signal that if the flag is not taken down this summer" the NAACP will call a national boycott to penalize the state economically, Dr. Chavis said. Tourism earned South Carolina $6.5 billion last year.

"The symbol of the Confederate flag is an insult not only to African-Americans but to all Americans," Dr. Chavis, who took office 15 months ago, said in an interview. "We believe we have the capacity to apply the necessary pressure to bring the flag down."

Dr. Chavis also said the NAACP has scheduled a second black leadership summit including black separatist Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, for Aug. 21-23 in Baltimore. The group is expected to endorse proposals such as an African-American Development Fund to make loans to black businesspeople.

The NAACP leader said the civil rights group also plans to:

* Create a program to train young entrepreneurs.

* Campaign to preserve historically black colleges.

* Challenge "new forms of racial discrimination" in the public schools, such as the disproportionate assignment of black children to special-education classes.

* Develop a "national constituency for Africa" in the United States.

In pursuing his strategy to rejuvenate the NAACP, Dr. Chavis has reached out to Minister Farrakhan, huddled with other black nationalists, held summits of gang leaders and courted "gangsta" rappers. He capped last week's NAACP convention in Chicago by leading 1,000 people, including many teen-agers, in a march on a Burger King restaurant that allegedly refused to serve four NAACP youth.

The convention endorsed his leadership by defeating a Chavis critic's attempt to join the NAACP board, authorizing a permanent NAACP mission in South Africa and asking few tough questions about Dr. Chavis' financial stewardship. The NAACP had a deficit of nearly $3 million at midyear.

"The convention went beyond my highest expectations," Dr. Chavis said. "The focus of the NAACP now is the pursuit of economic empowerment for the African-American community. It is embracing young African-Americans."

He said a group of NAACP board members has pledged to raise funds to help eliminate the group's deficit. He vowed to tighten management controls to prevent new losses.

Dr. Chavis said he would meet soon with James B. Adamson, chief executive officer of Burger King Corp., to discuss the Chicago incident. In a letter to Dr. Chavis, Mr. Adamson apologized for any mistreatment of NAACP youth.

Zel,.5l Cori Zywotow, a Burger King spokeswoman, said the owner of the Chicago franchise involved said she turned away the NAACP youth when they tried to enter through a fire exit after the restaurant was closed and already packed with teen-agers from the convention.

"She admitted she may have been rude . . . and apologized for any rude treatment. She denies anything racial in nature occurred," Ms. Zywotow said.

But Dr. Chavis, who has talked with several NAACP youth who were in the restaurant, said: "It was definitely a case of racial discrimination and insensitivity by the management of that particular Burger King." He said a national boycott of the chain "still remains an option."

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