NAACP President Cornell William Brooks says he is saddened and disappointed by the board’s decision to not renew his contract at the end of June, but he refuses to be bitter because he believes he gave his all to the civil rights organization that he loves.
“I am saddened by the decision, disappointed by the decision, but I will never be bitter about the decision because I am totally, totally confident in the record of our folks over the past three years,” he said in an interview with the Trice Edney News Wire this week. “I think I gave my heart and soul.”
The organization announced in a press release on May 19 that it would not renew Brook’s contract when it expires June 30.
“Keeping with its longstanding history, and legacy, the NAACP Board announced today a transformational, system-wide refresh and strategic re-envisioning. The objective is to best position the respected national organization to confront the realities of today’s volatile political, media and social climates,” the statement said.
“Board Chairman Leon W. Russell and Vice Chair Derrick Johnson, who were elected to their current positions in February 2017, will manage the organization on an interim basis until a new leader is named. Current CEO and President Cornell Brooks, will remain at the organization until June 30th, the end of his current term.”
Brooks had received an advance letter informing him that the board may not renew his contract prior to a board meeting held in Miami May 19. But the second letter with their final decision and then the public announcement still came as a shock to Brooks, who had become known for bringing 1960s style protests, such as sit-ins, into the 21st century with the participation of millennials.
The NAACP release made no direct reference to Brooks’ performance. Only that the 108-year-old organization now faces “additional barriers” that “have been placed in our way in the forms of voter suppression: increased police brutality, over criminalization of black bodies, income inequality and inadequate health care as well as anti-immigrant sentiments.”
The organization announced that it will engage in a “listening tour” of its members for the first time in its history before it hires a new president.
“In the coming months, the NAACP will embark upon a historic national listening tour to ensure that we harness the energy and voices of our grassroots members, to help us achieve transformational change, and create an internal culture designed to push the needle forward on civil rights and social justice,” said Derrick Johnson, vice-chairman of the NAACP board of directors, in the statement.
“These changing times require us to be vigilant and agile, but we have never been more committed or ready for the challenges ahead. We know that our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters expect a strong and resilient NAACP moving forward, as our organization has been in the past, and it remains our mission to ensure the advancement of communities of color in this country,” said Russell, the chair.
Brooks, a Yale Law School graduate and AME preacher, says he has no idea where he will go from here. He easily listed his NAACP accomplishments of which he is proud. They include:
• A membership that has grown annually over the past three years and is currently up 95 percent over last year.
• Online donations up 820 percent.
• Direct mail up 20 percent.
• Social media followers growing 25-30 percent a year.
• A new partnership with Yale Law School to address sentencing and reapportionment issues.
• 10 victories against voter suppression within a year, including unjust North Carolina and Texas laws.
• He says his radical strategies served to energize civil rights activists and advocates. Brooks was arrested twice amidst civil disobedience strategies, namely sit-ins in the office of then ultra conservative Sen. Jeff Sessions. He walked 800 miles in a “journey for justice” two years ago.
“When you walk 800 miles, you sleep in a sleeping bag, talk to millennials and pre-millennials, churches and synagogues. When you have students boo you off the stage in Ferguson … because everybody on stage was old … and then you turn around and march with those same students, you have learned a lot. You learn about the importance of not just saying you’re supporting young people, but showing up. What I’ve tried to do over these past three years was show up,” Brooks says.
Most recently, the NAACP has advocated against conservative nominations by Trump, remained outspoken against police misconduct, involved in the Flint water crisis, and voting rights among other issues. “We’re in the black, we’re visible, we’re vocal,” Brooks said.
Brooks and his wife have two sons, one an undergraduate in college and one a high school senior. Though he is not certain what he will do next, he hinted that he plans to remain in civil rights.
“I don’t like this work. I don’t have an affection for this work. I love this work. And I’m going to do that. Not sure where,” he said. Despite having to leave the NAACP, he says he will not become bitter.
“If you really love an institution, you want the best for it. I want the best for the NAACP. My love for the people of the NAACP exceeds the disappointment of not being able to continue serving,” he said. “This is a painful moment, but my wife and I have prayed about it. It says in the book of Jeremiah, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to give you a future and a hope.”
By Hazel Trice Edney