AT&T and NAACP to promote use of Internet among blacks

Mfume and Bond note civil rights group's progress with youth

July 11, 1999|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- The NAACP and AT&T Corp. will announce this month a $300,000 initiative to narrow the growing gap in Internet and computer use between black and white Americans, NAACP President Kweisi Mfume said yesterday.

Through the program, telecommunications giant AT&T will provide hardware, software and on-site support for technology centers in 20 cities, including Baltimore, Mfume said. It will also stage technology seminars to introduce African-Americans to the Internet, he said.

The announcement came on the first day of the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a six-day event here that will focus on myriad issues including police brutality.

At a news conference marking the start of the convention, Mfume and board Chairman Julian Bond outlined the organization's plans to remain at the forefront of racial issues.

"The NAACP is constantly in a process of reassessment, re-evaluation and repositioning, and civil rights must be juxtaposed against the realities of the current day," Mfume said. "And so as we take one foot out of the old century and place one foot into the new century, part of the task of this convention is to reassess, redefine and reposition."

As evidence of the group's growing strength, Bond pointed to the 70,000 new memberships that have been filed in the past year and the 41 new youth chapters opened in the past two years.

Spokesman John C. White said that, because of lapsed memberships, the organization's strength remains at about 500,000 in about 2,200 branches.

"One of the questions Mr. Mfume and I are constantly asked is: What are you going to do to appeal to youth?" Bond said. "We have new chapters from Stanford and Harvard universities to Piney Wood, Miss., and Jasper, Texas. Interestingly, many of these youth chapters, such as Harvard, came to us."

With politics a focus for the convention, presidential candidate and former Sen. Bill Bradley pledged to a crowd of about 1,000 last night that, if elected president, he would defend affirmative action, reduce poverty among black children and toughen hate crime laws.

"Quite frankly, race is the main reason I went into politics," Bradley told the cheering crowd. "I was in the U.S. Senate chamber on the night the 1964 Civil Rights Act was passed that desegregated public accommodations, and I thought to myself, `Maybe someday I could be in the Senate and help make America a better place.' "

Rating companies

Among recent NAACP initiatives that appeal most to members are the so-called industry report cards. In the past two years, the organization has rated hotel and telecommunications companies for their success in employing minorities; the initiative seeks to guide consumers to do business with minority-friendly companies.

Updates on both those report cards will be released during the convention -- and a third category will be added, Bond said.

Health issues, a hot topic at last year's convention after black leaders were criticized for neglecting the high AIDS rate among African-Americans, also are on the agenda. A health workshop is scheduled for Wednesday, and free mammograms will be offered throughout the convention, Bond said.

Mfume said details of the technology partnership with AT&T have not been finalized.

Esther Silver-Parker, president of the AT&T Foundation, the company's philanthropic arm, said: "Information and technology will be the key to success in the future. If these kids don't have access to computers, they don't have a chance. This will give them a chance."

A study released last week by the U.S. Commerce Department showed that whites are nearly three times more likely to use the Internet than blacks.

In other business this week, official resolutions are expected to be passed criticizing the use of Native American sports mascots such as those of the Washington Redskins and Cleveland Indians, and urging consumers to buy postage stamps that feature African-Americans.

Another resolution will condemn police brutality.

Brutality complaints

Police abuse likely will garner much attention because recent incidents of brutality here have galvanized many residents and put pressure for reform on law enforcement agencies. Last week, federal prosecutors released evidence of widespread problems in the handling of police brutality cases in New York City, and they said the Justice Department may sue the city if improvements aren't made.

Bond stressed that police abuse exists everywhere.

"It's not only here in New York City, but we've seen a virtual open season on black people from coast to coast," he said. The NAACP has asked Attorney General Janet Reno to withhold funds from police departments that show patterns of abuse, and it is pushing for passage of the Traffic Stops Statistics Act to gather racial data on police stops.

Such a law would be the first step to eradicating the problem of racism in law enforcement, said Hilary Shelton, head of the Washington bureau of the NAACP.

"People don't believe the anecdotal evidence," he said. "The first step is to make it clear what the problem is."

Pub Date: 7/11/99

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