I was reading Bruce Gordon’s leaked memo to the gigantic 64 member board of directors at the NAACP to clarify what are no doubt many rumors among the board and staff.

It reads like the patient self-justification of a very frustrated man. It’s painful for me to read for the following reasons:

1) The NAACP still holds power. They have a sterling brand name, especially among African-Americans aged 55+ (read: voters). They also still retain a large (yet rapidly aging) member base of 500,000 people. They remain a strong lobby in Congress when they actually bother to attempt some forceful advocacy such as the recent re-authorization of the Voting Rights Act.

2) Most of the previous 2 or 3 generations of my family have been members of the NAACP at one time or another over their lives. My grandmother actually remembers when it first launched and she joined with co-workers. Interestingly, she recalls that “they didn’t really ask me to do much so I stopped going.” Sound familiar? One of the last things my father wanted to do before he died was for us to go as a family to visit the then new national headquarters of the NAACP in Baltimore. My point is that the NAACP looms large even today in the emotional and social culture of middle and upper class blacks.

3) Like my compadre Jack and his coverage of this story, I know the organization more from its history than its contemporary relevance in my life or that of any of my peers. I am a member, but a dissatisfied one.

Bruce Gordon tried his best to bring the organization up to date. A once powerful and aggressive force for change has become a complacent and toothless old lion lulled to sleep by corporate dollars. Now more than ever, in the wake of Katrina and the Iraq war, do we need the help of an organization dedicated to advancing black interests in America. Take a look at Bruce Gordon’s struggle. I know from talking to folks on the inside at NAACP that many among the staff were excited and challenged by some of Gordon’s new strategic direction and accomplishments.

The question is whether the old soldiers of the civil rights era are truly ready to pass the baton on to a younger, more engaged and more energetic group of leaders. Bruce Gordon’s lament leads me to think otherwise. Thanks much to Afro-Netizen for sharing this with us.

An excerpt from Gordon’s memo to the NAACP Board:

§ Some Executive Committee members want to be directly involved in how I manage the staff. They want to approve organization structure. They want to make hire and fire decisions. They want to influence vendor selection. I view that as micromanagement.

§ Many directors and trustees do not feel that they have an obligation to fundraise. They are offended when I express appreciation for the success of some and the non-productivity of others. I believe that board members have an obligation to “give or get” money, particularly the SCF trustees.

§ I believe that the Centennial Plan (The “Pitch”) presented at last year’s annual meeting was a superb piece of work. It was developed with the consultative support of Booz Allen Hamilton. While it is not perfect, I see no evidence of a better strategic planning effort in recent years. The staff and I have subsequently provided detailed plans of execution for almost every part of the “Pitch” but my failure to stakeholder the effort has resulted in the Executive Committee asking me to develop a new document. I think there are more effective ways to use the limited capacity and resources of our staff.

§ From the beginning of my tenure I have been criticized for actions that I considered to be progressive. For instance:

Ø We initiated a Katrina Relief Fund that raised $2.6M but were chastised for not getting board approval first.

Ø I convened a meeting of national high profile leaders from across the country. The purpose of the meeting was to develop a unified position on post-Katrina government response. Instead of applauding this effort, I was faulted for attempting to “set policy.”

Ø I arranged one-on-one meetings with the President, Secretary of State, and Attorney General and was challenged for violating association policy planning to attend these meetings alone.

Ø We initiated a Medicare Part D enrollment effort and enlisted Bill Cosby and Danny Glover to create public service announcements but were told that this was a service initiative and we are an advocacy organization.

I have come to accept that my view of my role and the association’s role is not aligned with the board. I am willing to accept that our points of view regarding governance and strategic direction are in conflict. This is not about right or wrong…this is about difference. We can agree to disagree. We also could have found a way to blend the best of our respective points of view but in 19 months that did not happen.

It could be said that this is all about a failure to communicate. I agree. Maybe we can all learn something from this experience. I have written more than I intended. Hopefully you now know more about what happened, and why.

To quote Jack again:

Indeed. I’ve got to be honest. I’m one of those from the yoot generation, and my only frame of reference for the NAACP is historical. I don’t consider the organization when planning political action or even look to it for a black perspective. None of my peers ever mentions the group. What does the NAACP do nowadays?

I would say this attitude is true of most black people under age 50. Bruce Gordon attempted to answer Jack’s question and got shut down hard for his efforts.

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