In the 1980s, I was in my middle school and high school years. It is in my small city of Newburgh, New York is where I learned of the NAACP and the NAACP's Youth Branch. It was there I became racially aware and conscious to some of the differences we - Black folk experienced - versus how other people experienced life. My city was labeled the "Welfare Capitol for New York state". The opportunity to hold a government job at West Point or the United States Military Academy was the lure for many Black families that lived in the South to come to the New York to start something new for their families. Newburgh, 60 miles on the Hudson River from Manhattan quickly became populated with Blacks, Puerto Ricans, and Whites. As they came, each minority group seeking jobs at West Point was denied and more and more families who came with high hopes ended up on welfare rolls. Not surprisingly, the city became a beacon of crime and mischief, and at some point, also became the crime capitol for New York State. I joined the Youth Branch of the NAACP and started to write for the Black newspaper - The Hudson Valley Black Press. The combination of the organization that proudly fought discriminatory practices of the oppressor and being a teenager writing for the Black newspaper was really impactful.
Through my home experience, I helped form an NAACP Youth Branch at Boston University where I attended my undergraduate. Since Blacks were about 1% of the student population out of twenty or thirty thousand students in the 90's, the NAACP provided a familiar name to a familiar new family of kids who were familiar with the NAACP brand.
As I got older and started as an officer in the United States Air Force, I continued my NAACP membership as a young Lieutenant. It is fortunate that the Air Force had a Social Actions Office that was in charge of what we call Special Observances. Special Observances included recognizing Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Black History Month, Women's History Month, Asian Pacific Islander Month, Hispanic Heritage Month and Native American Month. I found an area to be active and volunteer my services to help others in uniform that were actively discriminated against. In 1992, I arrived in Los Angeles to witness the turmoil that came out of the police beatings of Rodney King. With my fraternity brothers of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc., Compton's Tau Tau chapter, I saw we needed more boots on the ground to help my people who were left out of America's dream. I remember a part of our membership dues to the fraternity went to the NAACP. As a chapter, we organized with the NAACP, the Watts Labor Action Committee, and ReBuild LA to work to create a truce with gang members who lost their way in life, and to create new opportunities.
My commanding officers were so impressed with my work volunteering to support advancing Black youth and people within our military they enabled me to serve as the project officer for many Black History Month programs and celebrations for Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. This was in addition to doing my job very well as a Personnel Officer. I was recommended for a Lifetime recognition award by the NAACP named after NAACP leader, the late Roy Wilkins. You would think that in my 20s that I would not be even competitive for such an award. By God's grace and master plan I was selected in 1994 as the youngest recipients EVER for the NAACP's Lifetime Roy Wilkins Renowned Meritorious Service Award. With the selection I was in Jet Magazine and Ebony Magazine for supporting my people.
My first NAACP National Convention that I attended was at the Indianapolis at the Hoosierdome. My parents attended as they were super proud their son achieved a major recognition from our oldest and most historic civil rights organization. At the convention, I received congratulations from then NAACP President Ben Chavis and the Military Affairs Committee. The wife of Roy Wilkins was also in attendance and she presented me with my award and her words of encouragement. As I think back, the NAACP's fuel pushed me into being the Chief of Military Equal Opportunity at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, and being in position to lead the Department of Defense's "One America" campaign of President Bill Clinton. With the early recognition, the expectation was real for me to do something more to help advance our people. Over 20 years in uniform I found this goal to be important and always valued the NAACP.
Fast forward, we are no longer in the 80s or 90s...time has gone by quickly... I'm now a Veteran of the US Air Force. I am now the parent cheering for my teenage daughter, Maya Herring, as she competes on center stage on the piano as a state participant in the NAACP ACT-SO competition. She will experience her first national convention in San Antonio. I know this may be the tipping point to her service with our people and our community.
I am encouraged by the fact the NAACP keeps recognizing our youth and continue to validate who they are. The NAACP membership is one membership that symbolizes much more than association to a group...it makes us family. The membership links us to our shared history that no other people can ever account for.
As we take an inventory of all the things that have happened and continue to happen to Black people - the NAACP Convention gives us a chance to pause, to consider the bright future in front of us. As my daughter is a member of the NAACP, her fond memories should keep her moving forward to know what she can become if she sets her mind to it. I know the countless words of encouragement I received through members of the organization.
As I have aged, I have continued to fight for Civil Rights and Economic Justice. This week, Mr. Charles O'Neal, the President of the Texas Association of African American Chambers of Commerce and newly elected Chairman to the US Black Chambers, I
nc., and I, the Chairman of the Texas Association of African American Chambers, will conduct a workshop for NAACP State Economic Development Directors. Our goal is to help communicate how vitally important it is to work together to achieve a greater victory for our people. The Black Chamber of Commerce is an arm of the community that every NAACP branch should know, have memberships in, and effectively know how we address issues of economic injustice. Before we call on boycotts or accept weak apologies from corporate discriminators, the leadership of both the NAACP and the US Black Chambers, Inc. should talk, and be on the same page, so we can better mobilize the fight. We are in the day and age of much more collaboration is needed - even with the Urban Leagues, Black Chambers of Commerce, or Black Lives Matter.
Today, the fight for fair contracting in our tax payer supported agencies is a real fight. The fight must be addressed collectively. Likewise, as the nation's president is stripping and gutting the many programs that were designed to correct the issues of slavery and Jim Crow, we must see more NAACP Membership ads and articles in all of our Black Newspapers. We must see these ads weekly to build up the membership and to let the world know our army is strong. We must file more law suits and have a deeper bench of NAACP Legal Defense lawyers to do the job. These are just a few of my observations. I applaud the NAACP Chairman Leon Russell and the NAACP President Derrick Johnson for the continued fight for Black people in America.
As I hope you are picking up, the work of the NAACP, for the Black man and Black woman, is never complete. We are still subjected to workplace discrimination, being the target to be locked up in our jails and prisons...or even being shot and killed by police. As we are taking naps in dorm rooms, we wake up to be questioned to why are we there in the first place. As the president tries to roll back Affirmative Action laws, we must ban together to fight as we can. America is always changing the tactics to how they target us, but the NAACP must continue to stay consistent. We must continue the fight and continue to promote this beloved and valued organization to our legacy.
Follow me at Twitter.com/BlackAmerica for more during the 109th NAACP National Convention. We must keep hope alive!