NAACP's renewed mission Annual meeting: Civil rights issues finally get more attention than internal squabbles.

July 21, 1998

THIS WAS the annual convention that NAACP members have been waiting three years to have. Finally, topic No. 1 wasn't the financial problems of the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. It wasn't ethical lapses by past leaders or divisiveness among its board. Every speech, almost every conversation, was about conquering the challenges facing African Americans.

President Kweisi Mfume and new board Chairman Julian Bond put to rest talk of conflicting personalities. "I promise that you are going to read about the NAACP because we are fighting for civil rights and not because we are fighting each other," said Mr. Bond. Mr. Mfume conceded that internal distractions kept the NAACP out of the battle against California's Proposition 209, but he said it would actively oppose similar anti-affirmative action measures in the future.

The NAACP must decide where it will focus its energy. Not wanting to disappoint any constituency at the convention, its emphasis shifted from AIDS in the black community to poor blacks' inability to afford technology advances, to discrimination against black farmers, to the need for African Americans to give political and economic support to Africa.

Whatever direction the organization decides to go, it must continue efforts to recruit young people. Its rolls include more than 67,000 members under age 24. But youth delegates said recruiting on college campuses is difficult.

The challenge is to convince young people that the NAACP isn't going to treat them like children who should be seen but not heard. Students were the heart of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. They knew they would benefit most from equal opportunity. That has not changed. The future belongs to the young. They should help decide its course.

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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