Chavis not as important as he seems to suppose

August 23, 1994|By WILEY A. HALL

The Rev. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. does not appear the least humbled by his firing Saturday as executive director of the NAACP -- just the opposite, in fact.

Dr. Chavis says, for instance, that he had been such a potent leader these past 17 months that forces inside and outside the NAACP conspired to destroy him.

He even has compared himself to Jesus Christ. In church Sunday, Dr. Chavis noted that he became the NAACP's executive director on Good Friday 1993. "Now there has been a crucifixion," he continued. "But today, we celebrate the resurrection."

Well, I've got good news: Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. is not nearly as important as he supposes. Neither is Minister Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, who joined Dr. Chavis to preen before the television cameras at a so-called black leadership summit. No single black celebrity is indispensable to black progress, though we may care about them and respect them. The reservoir of talent and vision in black America goes deeper than you would suppose given the way a few personalities monopolize the evening news. Somehow the NAACP -- and all of black America -- will find a way to survive without Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. at the helm.

To test this, I decided to bypass yesterday's leadership conference.

I spoke instead with Dennis Clarke, associate director of the National Bankers Association in Washington. The NBA, founded in 1927, represents 68 of the 102 African-American, Hispanic-American, Asian-American and female-owned commercial banks in the country. The group's members traditionally have provided mortgages and investment capital to inner city communities and fought to overturn discriminatory lending practices by majority-owned institutions.

"We are serving communities and people that no one else wants to serve," said Mr. Clarke, proudly. He added, "There are at least 10 regulatory or legislative issues right now that we are actively concerned with, all relating to our members and the communities they serve."

I spoke also with Rosemary Davis, executive vice president of the National Medical Association. The NMA represented 500 African-American physicians when it was founded 99 years ago, Ms. Davis said. Today, it represents over 20,000.

"But still, African-Americans represent just 3.5 percent of the physician pool in the United States," said Ms. Davis. "One of our priorities will be to keep the pipeline of African-American physicians open. Our people are sicker, they seek medical assistance later, they are the least likely to have meaningful access to health care. We are actively involved in the health care reform debate so that African-Americans will not be forgotten."

Similarly, Tony Fisher, associate director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, says the organization has worked to shape the national debate on crime.

And Dr. Beverly Scott, executive director of the National Forum for Black Public Administrators, says members have formed a mutual support network to help African-Americans assume management positions in the public sector.

"Our organization was built on a self-help philosophy," she says. "If we don't help each other, who will?"

There are national associations representing black lawyers, engineers, legislators, journalists, social workers, university professors, accountants, architects, business owners and research scientists.

Each of these black professional organizations, and dozens more, share a unified mission: Each works to increase minority participation in its respective field; and each seeks to empower African-American professionals to use their talents to improve the lives of their community and, ultimately, society.

Added to our professional class are the skills of concerned parents, churches, Boy Scout leaders and Little League coaches. There are home owner associations and union workers and networks of volunteers, young and old.

True, the combined efforts of all of these groups have not been enough to prevent the flood of problems that beset black communities. But in this struggle, it is the everyday people who matter -- not the folk who think they walk on water.

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