Independent search urged for NAACP

Former official wants nonmembers on panel to find new president

December 04, 2004|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

A former assistant executive director of the NAACP is calling on the organization to assemble an independent search committee of distinguished civil rights activists to help select the next president of the nation's oldest civil rights group.

Michael Meyers, who served as assistant director to NAACP giants Roy Wilkins and Benjamin Hooks, said he believes the next president must have the "intellect, vision, fund-raising and managerial skills to lead the nation's largest civil rights organization well into the 21st century ... in a nonpartisan fashion, free and independent of political factions."

In a Dec. 2 letter to Julian Bond, the NAACP's board chairman, Meyers, executive director of the New York Civil Rights Coalition, said he believes the search committee should include people independent of the NAACP's insiders to ensure that the organization finds the best candidate to replace Kweisi Mfume, who resigned Tuesday as the organization's president and chief executive officer.

Meyers proposed a list of candidates that includes departing U.S. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell; prominent Washington lawyer and Clinton adviser Vernon Jordan; Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children's Defense Fund; historian John Hope Franklin; Rachel Robinson, the wife of baseball great Jackie Robinson and founder of the Jackie Robinson Foundation; Ronald B. Sobel, senior rabbi emeritus of Temple Emanu-El of the City of New York; and Frank H. Wu, dean of Wayne State University Law School in Michigan.

Bond said he told Meyers that he appreciated his interest but that he would not create a committee made up exclusively of NAACP outsiders. He said the committee's composition will include a minority of outsiders, but that most will come from the NAACP's two major boards, "young and old, black and white."

"This was the composition of the group whose search resulted in Kweisi Mfume, and I am confident it will result in the selection of equally worthy candidates," Bond said in a statement to The Sun in response to Meyers' letter.

"No group - in the nonprofit or for-profit world - surrenders selection of its CEO to a group whose majority is outsiders," Bond wrote. "All of those named are reputable individuals, and they would have much to offer."

Meyers, 50, said he is not suggesting that those he recommended are the only candidates that should be considered. He said he wanted to offer possible candidates but that his greatest concern is that the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People selects a president who will help position the organization as a continuing strong voice for civil rights.

`Living on past glory'

"I think the NAACP has been living on past glory," Meyers said. "It has not pulled itself out of the doldrums.

"There's no question a major civil rights organization is necessary, but it's another question whether the NAACP fills that role," he said. "The NAACP used to be the organization people picked up the phone and called. They don't do that anymore. They call Al Sharpton or whomever."

Meyers hails from the old school of civil rights. He was a student of Kenneth Clark, the psychologist who presented key evidence to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Brown v. Board of Education school-segregation case. Clark, who sits on the board of Meyers' organization, introduced Meyers to Wilkins, who picked him as assistant national director of the NAACP in 1975 - a position he held for almost a decade.

In 1986, Meyers co-founded what is now the New York Civil Rights Coalition, a network of individuals who work with various groups to promote racial harmony, integration and social progress.

Meyers, a member of the NAACP, speaks passionately about making sure the organization moves forward and stands as a strong voice for civil rights nationwide.

Critical decision

Some of the search committee candidates that Meyers proposed said they agree that the next president will be critical to the organization's future and said they would serve or consider serving, if asked.

"I would be honored to be able to help the NAACP in any manner possible," said Wu, the Wayne State Law School dean. "The NAACP is important for all people of color, indeed all Americans who care about civil rights, and I have long respected the organization."

Franklin, the historian and professor emeritus at Duke University, said the issue is of grave importance.

"I think the leadership of that organization is very important," said Franklin, who is a life member and annual donor. "Blacks in the United States still don't enjoy civil rights."

Added Robinson, "You have to have someone who is a respected leader. It is a very important position at a critical time for the organization."

Bond said the NAACP executive committee gave him the authority to pick the search committee, and he's confident a strong candidate will emerge.

"The final choice, of course, lies in the hands of the full NAACP board," Bond said.

Sun staff writer Stephanie Desmon contributed to this article.

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