Curry, Owens vie to lead NAACP Boston

Bridgit Brown | 11/23/2010, 4:21 a.m.

A little less than 15 years ago, Curry was fresh out of college, and joined the NAACP under former president Leonard Alkins who ran uncontested for many years.

“He probably would have stepped down after six or seven years, but nobody raised their hands to be the president and Lenny said, ‘Okay, I’ll do it another two years then.”

Under Alkins, Curry began his community organizing work for the NAACP.  During his 12 years of membership, he chaired the political action committee for four years and spent five years as chair of the communications committee, writing speeches for Alkins, taking part in the development of policy papers, and standing in on his behalf at committee hearings and public and private events.

Curry says that Alkins would say to him, “Pick an issue and just go at it.”

His first campaign was “Knock Across Boston” in 2000, which was modeled after the national organization’s “Knock Across America” campaign that focused on getting communities of color throughout the country to vote.

“I wanted to be as methodic as candidates are when they’re trying to get out the vote. We picked blocks, and created block captains. We used provocative images that drew on the interest of a young person or an older person, like the one with the kids getting hosed in Birmingham. We had as a caption: ‘We fought so hard for it, yet we still don’t do it.’ ”

Coincidentally, the city of Boston and the general elections saw the greatest increase in voter turnout among communities of color that year.

“There was no doubt in my mind that the success of that campaign was due to the practice of strong collaboration and the use of tools that can effectively mobilize people,“ said Curry.  

In reflection, one of the things that he appreciated most about Alkins was his understanding of how young people can motivate each other. “Marketing for today is not like marketing 30 years ago, and Lenny trusted me. He could have been very traditional, but he let us do it.”

It was Alkins who advised Curry to hold back from running three years ago when he was very anxious. Even then, no one had stepped up to the plate and as a result the organization initiated a search for a new president. That spot was filled by Karen Payne, who recently stepped down to wage an unsuccessful campaign for a state representative seat.

“I was in law school, and I was thinking about running, but Lenny told me that I couldn’t do two things at once. He told me, ‘Go to school and focus on your studies, pass the bar and then come back.’ ”

As president, Curry wants to build stronger collaborations between the NAACP, individuals and organizations that have access to people, a strategy that he thinks might scare some older black residents.

“There is a small percentage of the Old Guard that thinks that we should stick with our own, but my philosophy is this: ‘If you’re not at the table, you’re on the table.’ We don’t want to show up when the pie is sliced, and be the bomb-thrower at the door, saying, ‘You didn’t cut us a piece.’ We want to be invited to the meeting to make sure that we cut our own slice so that the cut is big enough to impact our community.”