Make the NAACP a National Force Again

August 23, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

WASHINGTON — Washington. -- The national board of the NAACP took a crucial first step away from bankruptcy and political-social impotence Saturday when it fired executive director Benjamin Chavis Jr.

This drastic step represented the anguish and anger of a huge majority of the board over Dr. Chavis's unilateral commitment of $332,000 of NAACP funds to prevent a former employee, Mary E. Stansel, from filing an official claim that Dr. Chavis fired her only after their ''adulterous relationship ended.''

Dr. Chavis's ouster also reflected the shock of some board members upon learning that his claims of huge membership increases and gripping outreaches to young blacks were mostly phony.

But Saturday's action barely began the internal shakeups that are essential if the NAACP is soon again to be a major force in the Congress, the courts and at the White House. The board did not oust Chairman William Gibson, as many prominent black Americans had urged. ''We figured we couldn't kill two birds with one stone,'' a Midwest member explained.

It is common knowledge that Dr. Chavis was but an extension of Dr. Gibson and his lust for power, and that as long as Dr. Gibson is chairman the NAACP board will be little more than a bickering monstrosity.

All sorts of high-falutin' and cosmic proposals are now being put forth about how to speed the redemption of the NAACP. I offer this simple one:

Dr. Gibson ought to resign before he is ousted next February, or sooner.

All board members should resign with the stipulation that the association will set up a framework for the election of a new board of no more than 30 members who will share power and be able to meet their fiduciary responsibilities.

I was shocked when some board members told me that they had never seen Dr. Chavis' contract -- and that the important information about NAACP affairs was restricted to ''The Tribe,'' meaning those board members who were Dr. Gibson's cronies.

One board member was appalled to learn from the document submitted by Dr. Chavis' law firm that of the $82,400 in hush money already paid to Ms. Stansel, $12,700 was paid from tax-deductible gifts to the Special Contribution Fund. Few things would dry up gifts to the NAACP quicker than an IRS decision to disallow any deduction of contributions because of the abuse of the law by Dr. Chavis.

Before long, details will be printed about other unconscionable raids on now-depleted NAACP coffers -- abuses that a new board must prevent.

Once a manageable board of reasonably compatible people -- truly dedicated to racial and gender equality -- is elected by the national membership, a serious debate about NAACP philosophy and direction can begin. That discussion must start with the truism that no racial minority can progress in America without operating through the political system -- meaning that black-white-Hispanic and other alliances are necessary.

Another truism is that the rhetoric of black separatism can be self-defeating. I recently heard a woman on a radio station here say, ''I'm not a member of the NAACP, but I'm gonna send 'em some money to show the Ford Foundation that we don't need their half-million dollars!''

That is a dumb version of ''black pride.'' And the NAACP had better not count on paying its mortgage with that woman's money.

Youth outreach. It is obvious that the NAACP, like every other group and institution in America, faces a daunting challenge here. But a new, compatible board will be able to sanely debate such questions as, ''Do we focus first on street gangs, or do we try to rescue the 'still-good' kids who are vulnerable and at the brink of despair-born failure? Do we give priority to the black youngsters we are sure the NAACP can help with guidance, tutoring, scholarships and a show of genuine caring?''

Replacing Dr. Chavis was an act of survival. Total reconstitution of the board would be a giant step toward genuine redemption and revival.

Let us not have another year when this nation grapples with anti-crime legislation, the woes of the sexual revolution, welfare reform, the passions against affirmative action and the ravages of sickness among Americans without health-care insurance without the NAACP making a huge input into any proposed solutions.

No matter of personal power or pride should block the NAACP masses from pursuing that goal.

Carl Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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