NAACP prepares to move on

August 22, 1994|By Ann LoLordo and Ivan Penn | Ann LoLordo and Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writer Dana Hedgpeth contributed to this article.

With its controversial executive director ousted, the NAACP set out yesterday to restore public confidence in the stewardship of America's oldest civil rights group by tackling a growing deficit and flagging membership.

If the NAACP is greater than one individual -- as fired Executive Director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. recently said -- then the 85-year-old organization is relying on a pair of veteran staff members and a collection of board members to manage its daily operations and concentrate on reducing a nearly $3 million deficit accumulated during Dr. Chavis' 16 1/2 -month tenure.

"It was a tough call to oust Chavis, but it was a good call," said Dr. Robert W. Gilliard, a board member from Mobile, Ala. "It puts the organization in a positive position where we can reorganize and put in place structures of authority that will improve our public image."

After its dismissal of Dr. Chavis on Saturday, the board named as interim director Earl T. Shinhoster, the NAACP national field secretary. He will be assisted by Fred Rasheed, the group's economic development chief. A board oversight committee will monitor their work.

Dr. William F. Gibson, the board's chairman, also named two new board committees: a panel to scrutinize the NAACP's finances and a second one to propose possible changes in the group's constitution in time for the board's October meeting in Richmond, Va.

"Our mandate is to step up and move forward, to move the NAACP in a very forward, positive direction, focusing on increasing our membership, our basic mechanism of support financially," said Mr. Shinhoster, 44, who competed with Dr. Chavis for the directorship last year.

If strengthening membership is an immediate concern, it also may pose the toughest challenge for interim leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP membership needs to know that "they are in fact the lifeblood of the NAACP and the mechanism through which it flows," Mr. Shinhoster said.

Dr. Gibson, a South Carolina dentist who has been chairman of the board since 1985, said Mr. Shinhoster and Mr. Rasheed will have to assemble a management team, develop a rapport with employees at the Baltimore headquarters and handle staffing changes resulting from Dr. Chavis' termination.

He described the men as "capable professionals" who will be in place until Dr. Chavis' successor is found. Dr. Gibson said he has not yet named a search committee.

"The NAACP is going to continue to do its work, to carry out its mission, to continue to deal with the problems of the disenfranchised African-Americans," said Dr. Gibson, who added that the membership and leadership bases must be expanded.

Indeed, the catch-phrase voiced yesterday by several NAACP board members -- whether it was youth member Kim Weaver or veteran Lillian Jackson from Alabama -- was, "We're moving forward."

"We have to put everything in perspective," said the Rev. Zedar E. Broadous, president of the San Fernando Valley, Calif., branch of the NAACP. "The NAACP was not founded upon a personality. It was founded on principles. Ben Chavis being out is not going to dilute the NAACP in its mission. It may change some of its perspectives."

L But the NAACP's financial problems cannot be underestimated.

"It's difficult enough to raise the money it takes to operate," said Benjamin L. Hooks, the former executive director who maintains that he left the NAACP $600,000 in the black. "And then to raise the money for the current operations to pay off a debt that we don't know how large it is, is going to be difficult."

More housecleaning?

Others suggest that the NAACP may need to do some additional housecleaning before it can build new vitality and continue the good -- and often unheralded -- work of its branches.

During Dr. Chavis' fight for his job, some NAACP branches called for the board chairman to resign as well. Dr. Gibson, a key ally of Dr. Chavis initially, began to distance himself from the 46-year-old minister, a move that may have saved his position for now. The 61-year-old chairman's term expires in February.

To Julian Bond, a former NAACP board member and one-time Georgia legislator, the 64-member board needs to ask itself some serious questions. The answers to those questions may influence the board's ability to recruit a new executive director, he said.

"They need to take a serious look at the leadership of the board and the organization and ask whether or not this is an independent body composed of thoughtful people who represent a relatively large swath of opinion in black America," said Mr. Bond. "Or are they simply automatons who vote the way the board chairman tells them to? If it's the latter, they need to put that house in order before any responsible woman or man would dream of taking this job."

Annapolis City Councilman Carl O. Snowden said the NAACP will need a leader who is dynamic, innovative, a risk-taker, someone, ironically, "much like Ben Chavis."

Type of leader

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