A meeting flyer changed my life. It was a Sunday afternoon when an elder of my church handed me a flyer to attend the upcoming Cleveland NAACP Youth Council meeting that following Saturday. I was 14 at the time and really didn’t know much about the NAACP; my familiarity with the organization only came from a few brief sentences I read in history books. Now when I look back at my life before I joined the NAACP, I realize that even as a child I always had this feeling that Black people just didn’t seem to be treated as fairly as others. After joining the NAACP and learning more about Black history and the role the organization played in the past, I knew that I had to be a part of continuing the legacy of youth activism that defined the civil rights movement.
So as a freshman in high school, I began my leadership development when I was elected President of the Cleveland Youth Council in 1995. To this day I can still remember my first national convention in Charlotte, North Carolina. There were hundreds of young people, kids that looked like me, energized to make a change in the name of the NAACP. Here I felt safe, I felt empowered, I felt challenged, I felt loved. I may have been a young person with limited experience but in the NAACP I could be a leader – I was a change agent.
The NAACP Youth & College Division changed my life and continually impacts thousands of others who are affected by the change that is produced by its more than 25,000 youth members under the age of 25. For the past 75 years the Division has been at the forefront of the major civil rights battles that challenged the conscious of this nation and advanced the status of African Americans and other people of color. Some of the significant contributions of youth units within the NAACP since the founding of the Youth & College Division in 1936 include:
- Students in the Howard University College Chapter, one of the first in the nation, organizing demonstrations at a national convention in Washington, DC when political leaders refused to discuss lynching as a national crime in 1934. This demonstration led to Congress enacting the Federal Anti-lynching Bill.
- The Wichita, Kansas and Oklahoma City NAACP Youth Councils launching in 1958 the first of many non-violent sit-in demonstrations at lunch counters and other public places to protest the second class citizenship of African Americans – two years prior to the Greensboro sit-ins in 1960.
- In 1991 and 1992, NAACP youth units in the south, particularly led by the Mississippi Youth & College Division, mobilized thousands of community members to address unequal educational opportunities for Black students and to advocate for the survival of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. As a result, HBCUs in Mississippi continue to operate today but are constantly prone to threats of closure by conservative state leaders.
- The NAACP Youth & College Division condemned off-campus parties held by predominately white fraternities at Clemson University and the University of California-San Diego where students mocked African Americans and civil rights icons in derogatory manners. As a result, the Division created the Campaign to End Campus Racism in 2007.
- The North Carolina Youth & College Division mobilized thousands of young people in February of this year to the state capitol in Raleigh, North Carolina to address re-segregation issues promoted by the Wake County School Board.
Today, the NAACP Youth & College Division celebrates our 75 years of youth leadership with a renewed spirit of activism and dedication to social justice. With the release of our new logo, the Division is re-energized to tackle the various issues that continue to plague young, African Americans and people of color in this country. As we launch our new social networking project later this year, the Division will be well positioned to integrate the valuable tactics of civil rights pioneers in the past with innovative 21st century online tools. Today, I and thousands of NAACP youth leaders, will continue to lay the foundation for young freedom fighters to stand with unwavering convictions and unyielding activism on the front line to ensure equality for all people of color.