PHILADELPHIA - The NAACP is sometimes accused of being an old organization that's out of touch with the young. But yesterday at a meeting of the NAACP's board, 10-year-old Nathaniel Keith Jenkins of Allentown, Pa., led members in a chant by spelling out "N-A-A-C-P."
His cheer afforded a lighthearted break in an otherwise serious day, as the 64-member board conducted business that included the adoption of resolutions passed at the annual convention in July in Baltimore.
No major initiatives were announced during the board's three-day quarterly meeting, which concluded yesterday, but voter empowerment, health care issues, racism in government agencies and education were among key issues discussed.
One of the main questions for board members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - the nation's oldest civil rights organization - was whether President and Chief Executive Officer Kweisi Mfume will renew his contract, which expires next year.
"Within the last 12 hours, the progress of negotiating his contract has moved 1,000 light years toward the future," Julian Bond, NAACP board chairman, said in an interview. He said he couldn't think of a board member who doesn't want Mfume to continue as president.
"He wants to stay on," Bond said of Mfume, who took over the NAACP's top job in December 1995, after former executive director Benjamin F. Chavis was fired in August 1994 amid a sexual harassment scandal.
Mfume has been "excellent. He's given us heightened visibility. He's brought a sense of vigor and helped restore integrity to the organization," said Bond.
Bond did not disclose specifics of the contract negotiations. Efforts to reach Mfume for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.
Mfume, a former Baltimore congressman, is credited with helping restore fiscal responsibility to the NAACP. "Six years ago, we were $4 million in debt," Bond said. "We've been in the black for at least the last three years."
Yesterday's meeting began with a discussion on voter empowerment and NAACP efforts to register voters. Among the efforts is a videotape featuring NAACP officials, entertainers and other prominent African-Americans stressing the need for people to register and then vote Nov. 7.
Heather Booth, executive director of the NAACP National Voter Fund, said more than 200,000 people registered to vote through her group's efforts, including more than 81,000 through a phone line.
The National Voter Fund was established in the spring to complement the efforts of NAACP volunteers who have worked since early last year to register voters in time for next month's presidential election. At the group's convention last year in New York, Mfume announced plans to register 4 million new voters.
In other action, the board adopted a $23.8 million budget for fiscal 2001, which begins Feb. 1.
Treasurer Frank Borges, also a board member, said the figure reflects a 17 percent increase from this year's budget. He said revenues are up and spending is down. The NAACP made nearly $1 million from its July convention, the first one held in Baltimore since 1989, when the civil rights groups relocated its headquarters from New York.
A small amount of the money in next year's budget will go toward the NAACP's prison chapters, Borges said.