Local NAACP stumbles on road to goals

Some blame current leader for apparent stagnation of the Anne Arundel chapter

June 24, 2007|By Nia-Malika Henderson | Nia-Malika Henderson,SUN REPORTER

In its heydey in the 1980s and '90s, the Anne Arundel County branch of the NAACP had 3,000 members and was the go-to organization in the local civil rights movement.

The group had an Annapolis office, a growing youth contingent and in 2000 was named the state's branch of the year.

Yet, in recent months, insiders say, the organization seems to have lost its way. Talks to get office space have seemingly stalled, the board has not approved the annual budget, and at 350, membership is at an all-time low.

In part, the decline is due to a fundamental question facing the national organization: how a civil rights organization should function in the post-civil rights era.

The headquarters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which is based in Baltimore, recently announced a 40 percent staff reduction and regional office closures to cover three years of budget shortfalls.

Yet several longtime members of the local chapter, founded in 1944, faulted the organization's current leadership for its stagnation.

Wayne Jearld, a marketing and branding consultant, won the presidency by fewer than a dozen votes last fall. Since then, three of his appointments to the 19-member executive committee have resigned. Others point to what they describe as Jearld's confrontational style as why some stalwart members are staying away from monthly meetings.

"To be in that position, a person has to be able to work with other people and other community leaders and the community at large," said Ida Plummer, the organization's secretary. "I don't believe the current leadership can take us where we need to go."

Several calls and e-mails to Jearld were not returned.

To be sure, not unlike the national organization, the local chapter has struggled with leadership transitions.

In 1995, questions of fraud swirled around an election and the results were tossed out. Since then, the organization has righted itself, thriving under 12 years of Gerald Stansbury's leadership, with more members and a black business directory, which Jearld compiled.

The organization was out front on such issues as academic parity in the school system, the racially tinged case over the death of Pasadena teen Noah Jamahl Jones and boosting the number of black firefighters.

Jearld, 58, came in hoping to sustain that momentum and focus on expanding black business opportunities, preserving the cultural legacy of Clay Street and expanding membership back to 3,000 in his two-year term.

In a January interview with The Sun, he spoke of burnishing the NAACP brand, building partnerships with other nonprofits and private organizations, and starting a Web site.

The Web site, though unfinished, was launched this month. The remaining goals, some say, have been hurt by Jearld's approach.

"Wayne has to be more amenable in listening to his constituents; he was elected by the democratic process," Stansbury said. "You have to work in harmony with other organizations and leaders in order to be successful."

Asked previously about that perception, Jearld said he is "a straight shooter."

"I don't know how to play politics, but I'm sure I'll learn," he said. "But I come from the school of thought that there are no permanent enemies."

Under his tenure, the group lobbied city and state officials and congressmen -- unsuccessfully -- in support of Lamar S. Owens, a black former midshipman who was expelled from the Naval Academy. He had been acquitted of rape but convicted of two lesser charges in a highly publicized case.

In addition, the NAACP recently was on the winning side of a battle over a redistricting plan at Meade High School. Some parents accused the school system of trying to resegregate schools by drawing attendance boundaries that funnel minorities into lower-performing schools in the Meade High School feeder system. The school board backed down by delaying a long-term decision.

As the oldest and most well-known civil rights organization, the NAACP also backs smaller groups with similar interests, like the RESPECT organization.

Those collaborative efforts, however, have faltered during Jearld's tenure, some say.

"There have not been any meaningful interfaces between the two organizations, and [Jearld's] feeling seems to be that RESPECT is invading NAACP territory," said Clemon Wesley, co-chairman of RESPECT, a coalition of African-American organizations in Anne Arundel County. "But we worked fairly well together until now. RESPECT's position is that there is work to be done."

nia.henderson@baltsun.com

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