In the fight to be seen and heard

New local NAACP president aims to revitalize legacy of organization

January 07, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,sun reporter

Wayne Jearld grew up in an Annapolis family where membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was mandatory.

The local chapter, founded in 1944, was central to the black community.

Members staged sit-ins in cafeterias and challenged segregation in the courts.

Now, as the newly elected president of the local chapter of the NAACP, Jearld is trying to revitalize the civil rights organization and make increased membership a priority.

His aims are in keeping with the national organization, which was founded in 1909 and uses the slogan, "The NAACP is Today," as its marketing strategy.

"We're going to be seen as an organization that folks need to get their arms around again," said Jearld, a 58-year-old marketing and branding consultant from Annapolis. "This is going to be a renaissance. ... We've got some plans."

Those plans, still in the developmental stage, include pushing for expanded opportunities for black businesses, lobbying the school system to recruit and hire additional minority teachers, and ensuring that efforts to redevelop Clay Street will preserve the area's cultural legacy.

Jearld also wants to add 3,000 members in his two-year term by reaching out to young people and drawing from all races, he said.

He declined to say how many members were in the chapter, which had about 1,600 in 2004.

Jearld succeeds Gerald Stansbury, who held the post for a decade. He did not seek re-election.

He takes over an organization that through the years has flourished and faltered, members said.

During his tenure, Stansbury quadrupled the branch's membership, launched a voter registration drive and published an African-American business directory, which Jearld compiled as head of the branch's minority business enterprise program.

Stansbury did not return calls seeking comment for this article.

Most notably, the chapter filed a federal complaint against Anne Arundel County's school board that prompted the county to agree to raise academic goals for minority, low-income and special education students.

Jearld said that the agreement was one of the standout achievements of the NAACP and that he will continue to work to see that the objectives are met.

"The agreement with the Board of Education only came because of the power of the NAACP," Jearld said. "No other organization had the ability to make that happen."

Annapolis city council member Classie Gillis Hoyle, a lifetime member of the NAACP, called the chapter an "essential part of the community." She said she expected Jearld to work with the city's Economic Development Office to build a black business base.

"I feel confident that he'll step up and initiate some projects," Hoyle said. "And that's different than what we've had in the past. Every time you get a different leader you get a different approach."

Jearld, who was director of the city's Youth Services Bureau in the 1970s, brings community ties and business experience to the post.

He grew up in the College Creek Terrace and Obery Court communities, attending First Baptist Church, of which he is still a member. He fondly recalled the "old 4th Ward" as a vibrant and self-contained community that has recently been racked by drugs and crime.

In the 1980s, Jearld, who has an undergraduate degree from Maryland State College, now known as the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, and a graduate degree from Sojourner-Douglass College, worked in computer sales. He is divorced and has a grown daughter.

County Executive John R. Leopold tapped him to be a member of his transition team and appointed him to the county's planning and advisory board.

"I have known Mr. Jearld for some time, and I believe him to be bright, energetic and sensitive to the needs of all citizens," said Leopold, who chose an NAACP event as the venue for his first public speaking engagement shortly after he was elected. "He understands the importance of creative bridge-building."

Some members, however, privately questioned whether Jearld has had a sustained commitment to the NAACP and enough experience to be president, an unpaid post he won by less than a dozen votes.

Jearld said he's been an active member for most of his life.

"I've always been involved, but I don't think involvement needs to imply whether you do or don't go to meetings," he said. "There are some folks in the NAACP that have been there for 40 years and have not made a difference."

Over the next six to nine months, Jearld said, he'll burnish the brand with a major membership drive and a community outreach effort to develop a strategy for dealing with behavioral problems among students.

He also said he'd look to build partnerships with nonprofit and private organizations to offer Outward Bound-type activities like camping or hiking so young people can get out of troubled communities, if only for a weekend.

"I plan to be here for about 10 years ... because that's how long it's going to take to get things in a way which it's going to work," he said. "As the NAACP grows, I won't be concerned if people of the county and this city forget who the president is. That's not an issue for me."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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