Mfume pushes inmate-outreach initiative NAACP should emulate Nation of Islam in '60s, he says as convention opens

July 12, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The NAACP should offer job training and counseling to young men who are incarcerated or on parole to reintegrate them into mainstream society, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said yesterday.

If members of the organization's national board approve a proposed initiative, NAACP members nationwide will be directed to reach out to young men -- particularly those 15 to 21 -- who are in the prison system, Mfume said.

Saying he would like his organization to emulate inmate-outreach efforts undertaken by the Nation of Islam in the 1960s, Mfume said, "What they did wasn't hocus-pocus; it was someone taking the time to care. We must do that again."

The remarks came at a news conference marking the start of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's 89th annual convention. More than 3,000 members have registered so far for the convention in Atlanta, including a large number of teen-agers who are competing for $54,000 in scholarships this week. As many as 7,000 more members are expected to attend, NAACP officials said.

The six-day gathering of the Baltimore-based organization is being held in a state where many of the nation's key civil rights victories took shape.

In 1962, the last year the group's convention was held in Atlanta, the Georgia capital was largely segregated and the event was picketed by the Ku Klux Klan, Mfume recalled yesterday. Black members were barred from registering at white hotels, he said.

Since then, African-Americans and the NAACP have made enormous gains, said Mfume, who has been president and CEO for about 2 1/2 years, helping lead the organization out of financial and leadership crises that threatened its existence.

"This association is not what it was last year or the year before or the year before," Mfume told about 100 journalists and NAACP members at the news conference at the Georgia World Congress Center. "We are moving in positive ways."

Mfume also previewed such convention events as a rally that will focus attention on what he called "the new civil rights issue of health," particularly the impact of AIDS on African-Americans.

He highlighted convention events this week that will address the condition of Africa and the plight of African-American farmers, who have lost their land at rates outstripping loss among farmers in other groups. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is being sued by hundreds of black farmers for racial discrimination, "has been hostile and defensive," Mfume said.

He also called attention to recent NAACP actions and future initiatives, including:

A report card issued late last month grading members of Congress on 10 legislative actions related to, among other issues, education, affirmative action and health.

A push to monitor traffic stops by race, to confirm NAACP statistics showing that 72 percent of all drivers stopped by police are African-Americans although blacks make up 15 percent of drivers.

A score card for the hotel and lodging industry grading ethnic diversity among employees.

An effort to diversify the employee rolls of the federal courts, focusing on the clerks of the Supreme Court, where only nine of 394 are black and where no Native American has held a clerkship, according to Mfume.

"The court limits opportunity in decision after decision on affirmative action," Mfume said. "Shame on them when they themselves have no sense of affirma- tive action and no sense of diversity."

He added, "Some question whether the NAACP should be scoring businesses and the like. But I would ask, if we don't, who will?"

Pub Date: 7/12/98

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