Mfume says NAACP debt is cut Annual convention to get upbeat report from new leader

July 05, 1996|By James Bock | James Bock,SUN STAFF

President Kweisi Mfume says he expects to tell the NAACP's annual convention, which begins tomorrow in Charlotte, N.C., that the organization has cut its debt to less than $1 million.

Mfume inherited a $3.2 million deficit -- and a legacy of financial mismanagement and internal power struggles -- when he resigned from Congress in February to head the nation's largest civil rights group.

The six-day convention will be the 47-year-old Baltimorean's first chance to convince the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's rank and file that he is getting the organization back into fighting trim after two years of turmoil.

Mfume said in a wide-ranging interview at the NAACP's Northwest Baltimore headquarters that he had spent much of his 4 1/2 months on the job trying to cut the deficit and overhauling the group's financial controls. He said he personally had raised nearly $1 million.

He is "ready to turn up the heat and look at trying to solicit larger donations to liquidate the existing debt" by the end of this year, he said.

The NAACP leader said he was almost recovered from back problems that sidelined him for more than a month, including a two-week hospitalization in May.

Mfume also:

Gave President Clinton a B+ for his first-term civil rights record, but said Congress merited only a C and the Supreme Court a D- for their assaults on affirmative action and majority-black congressional districts.

Described black church burnings as a phenomenon that had, instead of creating despair in the black community, "galvanized Americans of all races" to come to the churches' aid.

Put the NAACP's membership at 575,000 and said the organization had computerized its membership database so that, by September, branch presidents could have a full accounting of who their members are.

Envisioned the NAACP as encouraging entrepreneurship among young African-Americans; using its influence to ensure access to capital for black start-up businesses, and spearheading a national after-school program to give children supervision until their parents get home from work.

Mfume has limited his public appearances, which has disappointed some local NAACP leaders. He said he would travel more after the convention.

"I've deliberately tried to concentrate most of my effort on what the job was: getting control of the apparatus and making it more efficient. I've just got to remind people that it's a big country and I've only been here four months."

Mfume laid off 15 employees in March and has gradually hired a handful of key aides.

He recruited two directors in their mid-20s to run the NAACP's biggest youth programs. Jamal Bryant, a Morehouse College graduate and the son of Bishop John R. Bryant, the former pastor of Baltimore's Bethel AME Church, heads the youth and college division. Rhonda Wilson, a former aide to Rep. Donald M. Payne, chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, runs ACT-SO, the group's "Olympics of the Mind" for high school students.

Mfume said he has declared war on red ink and centralized several functions, including ACT-SO and the New York development office, at Baltimore headquarters.

The NAACP Image Awards show, which was nationally televised in April, turned a profit of nearly $400,000 after posting losses of $1.4 million in 1992-94. The annual convention, which traditionally has broken even, is expected to net $800,000.

Mfume has the title of president, a $200,000 salary and a weekly radio message, but he said the day is long past when the leader of the NAACP could be considered the president of black America. He said African-Americans are too diverse for that.

"We don't fool ourselves into believing we speak for all people," he said. "We do believe that, unlike others, we have to reach out to all people."

He said he thinks most black Americans still look to the 87-year-old NAACP to "champion the whole idea and notion of opportunity. Black people want to know that opportunity will still exist and that it will still be protected."

Mfume said the conservative trend in Congress and the courts makes the NAACP's traditional roles of lobbying and litigating an "effective counterforce."

Mfume said he would introduce a resolution at the convention condemning slavery in the Sudan, after publication last month of a three-part series in The Sun. Two Sun reporters bought and freed two slaves to prove that slavery still exists in the African nation.

Pub Date: 7/05/96

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