Stars Say NAACP Remain a Major Force for Equality

(L-R) President of the NAACP, Ben Jealous is joined with his wife Lia Epperson, Alma Powell and Colin Powell at the 42nd NAACP Images Awards in Los Angeles on Friday March 4, 2011./AP Photo/Earl GibsonIII

By Dennis J. Freeman

Los Angeles-The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is the nation’s oldest civil rights organization. Throughout its storied history, the NAACP has taken on structural racism and the Ku Klux Klan, battled Jim Crow segregation, fought against discrimination in education and in the workplace and marched for freedom.

Today is a new day and the NAACP finds itself staring down the barrel of a horde of new challenges. Many of those challenges are not as blatant as police dogs biting and attacking black citizens or the days of rampant lynching and cross-burning spectacles that were the norm in the segregated South.

 Then again, the face of today’s challenges remains the same for the NAACP as they did when the organization was founded in 1909. Racism has a softer approach these days. Discrimination can be masked more easily.

Equality still remains an issue for African Americans and people color. Education, with only 47% of black male students graduating from public high schools, continues to be a battlefield. Black men remain on the short end of the stick when it comes to judicial justice, accounting for a number that is six times more than white men in the correctional and prison systems.

 Fulfilling the American dream of buying a home has become more of a far-fetched idea in recent years than reality to many African Americans, with mortgage lender home loan rates skyrocketing and the chance of getting duped increasing.      

The entertainment industry is no different for African Americans. The recent Golden Globes and Academy Awards showed that. Despite critical acclaimed work done by Halle Berry (Frankie & Alice), Tyler Perry (Director, For Colored Girls), Michael Ealy (For Colored Girls), Kimberly Elise (For Colored Girls) and Samuel L. Jackson (Mother and Child), Hollywood pasted a whiteout during awards season, failing to honor any African American for their work.

That was not the case with the 42nd NAACP Image Awards. The NAACP, which promotes the advancement of people of color, gave many of the entertainers, who were snubbed by the major awards shows, an opportunity to be recognized.

“That’s why we honored the people you saw,” said NAACP President Benjamin Todd Jealous. “That’s why you honor Tyler Perry. That’s why you honor Gen. Colin L. Powell. That’s why you honor Halle Berry. That’s why you honor Gen. (Davis) Benjamin. There are two things we make sure we do. One, we get one night on television, and our people feel a real reflection of who they are and what they can do. Two, we lift up the people who attempt to do that every day.”

Academy Award winner Lou Gossett Jr., who captured an Image Award for being part of a PBS team that won the “Outstanding Documentary” category, said the NAACP continues to fight the battle that needs to be fought. That’s what is needed today, he said.

“The NAACP is more relevant now than ever,” Gossett said. “If you don’t know where you’ve been, you don’t know where you’re going. There’s a responsibility that’s been back in place. The NAACP has got something to do now, whether it’s relevant to movies, television programming and education, so that we can get these things that were promised to us. We have to prepare for that.”

Keeping up with technology and bringing in young people into the fold of the organization are new age dilemmas for the NAACP, which made its mark in America by marching, litigation and engaging in civil disobedience protests.

Corporate America boardrooms are now where the battle lines are being drawn up. Rapper/Actor LL Cool J (NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a TV Drama Series), said the NAACP’s approach today is vastly different than the days of the civil rights movement.

“That’s like trying to compare what President (Barack) Obama is doing to what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. did,” said LL Cool J. “It’s a different time. The challenges are different now. Back then we couldn’t get on the bus. Now we’re trying to get equality in other areas of businesses and entertainment.

“You will never be able to compare this generation or future generations of African Americans to what African Americans in the civil rights era went through and had to. People stand on the shoulders of each other. We, as a people, will continue to evolve. The challenges are always going to be different. But what’s important is that we address the current challenges and compare what we’re doing today to what we did yesterday.”

Screenwriter Cheryl Edwards, who was nominated for an Image Award for her work in “Frankie & Alice,” has to have a more forceful presence in Hollywood in order to invoke any noteworthy changes in the entertainment industry.

“It (NAACP) needs to have a stronger presence in the film and the television industry,” Edwards said. “I think the squeaky wheel gets the oil. If we keep doing our best work, doing essentially doing all the right things and things don’t happen, then there has to be some pride of the heart and of the soul from the NAACP. People did take umbrage at the Oscars and the lack of nominees. We really need to have people of color who are in this industry that has some position to come out and really let people know how it is.”

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