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Time for new ideas

12/30/2008, 7:08 a.m.
“Man, with unemployment so high and home foreclosures...

Time for new ideas

“Man, with unemployment so high and home foreclosures on the rise, it’s a good thing we have Obama or there’d be little to celebrate.”

The start of a new year is the time for people to assess the successes and the shortcomings of the prior 12 months. Such assessments are usually very personal and followed by solemn resolutions to correct those bad habits that have impeded the success possible in the past.

This year will be a bit different. It is almost impossible to avoid a macro assessment. Events beyond an individual’s control will have enormous influence on the future. The nation is in the throes of a serious recession. People are losing their jobs, their homes and their retirement accounts. Even those with the best laid plans will find it difficult to weather this storm.

African Americans will also have to reevaluate their strategies for united action for progress. Whether or not some are willing to acknowledge it, the election of Barack Obama has created an enormous social change. The strategies for social action that were effective in the past may no longer work.

The difficulty the NAACP faces in reinventing itself illustrates the challenge of the larger task. Usage of the acronym “NAACP” has become so common that some people have forgotten the organization’s formal name — the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. To understand what that name meant in 1908 as the Niagara Movement became the NAACP, consider the race riot in Springfield, Ill., on Aug. 14 and 15, 1908.

A married white woman claimed to have been raped by a black man who was working in her neighborhood. She admitted before a grand jury that her accusation was false, but a white mob intent on violence was formed. Police took the black man into protective custody and drove him to another town. The frustrated mob went on a rampage against blacks, destroying their homes and businesses.

The final tally: Two blacks lynched, six more killed, and over 70 blacks and some whites wounded. There were 100 arrests and 50 indictments. The white community then launched an economic boycott to drive out those blacks who had not already fled.

One hundred years later, Barack Obama — who had been elected to the U.S. Senate from Illinois — was elected president of the United States. This was an outcome that could not possibly have been envisioned by the founders of the NAACP.

Clearly, times have changed. Who can reasonably assert that African Americans cannot succeed in this country because of racist violence? It is time for the NAACP and other leadership organizations to make themselves relevant or become condemned to the same fate visited upon horse-drawn carriage manufacturers who insisted that the automobile was just a fad.

Older blacks will continue to support the NAACP for historical reasons, but the young will not be inspired to join unless the organization becomes more relevant. With the adoption of a new agenda, the NAACP could be effective in strengthening black communities across America. The alternative is to become archaic.

African Americans have much to think about this New Year’s Day. The potential effectiveness of a rejuvenated NAACP is one matter. The NAACP has developed an effective brand through 100 years of service. A strong brand is a terrible thing to waste.