BALTIMORE — The NAACP board of directors has chosen Ben Jealous, a
35-year-old former news executive and lifelong activist, as the
organization’s next president and the youngest in its 99-year history.
The 64-member board of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People met and voted in Baltimore last Friday, and formally announced its decision at a news conference the following day.
NAACP national spokesman Richard J. McIntire confirmed the vote with The Associated Press early Saturday after the eight-hour closed door meeting.
Though Jealous is not a politician, minister or civil rights icon, he is connected and familiar with black leadership and social justice issues. He takes the helm as the NAACP’s 17th president just months before the organization’s centennial anniversary, as the group grapples with dwindling membership and looks to boost its coffers.
“There are a small number of groups to whom all black people in this country owe a debt of gratitude, and the NAACP is one of them,” Jealous told The Associated Press in a telephone interview before the vote. “There is work that is undone … the need continues and our children continue to be at great risk in this country.”
Jealous succeeds Bruce S. Gordon, who resigned abruptly in March 2007. Gordon left after 19 months, citing clashes with board members over management style and the NAACP’s mission as his reasons for leaving. Dennis Courtland Hayes had been serving as interim president and chief executive officer.
Jealous was born in Pacific Grove, Calif., and educated at Columbia University and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.
He has worked as a community organizer for the NAACP; as managing editor the Jackson Advocate, a black newspaper in Mississippi; executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the country’s largest group of black community newspapers; and as director of Amnesty International’s U.S. Human Rights Program.
Since 2005, Jealous has served as president of the San Francisco-based Rosenberg Foundation, a private institution that supports civil and human rights advocacy.
Despite his own successes, Jealous said blacks in the U.S. still have it hard, and that the gains of recent decades have created a false sense of progress.
“Those of us who are 45 and younger were told, ‘The struggle has been won. Go out and flourish. Don’t worry about the movement,’” he said.
The NAACP was founded in 1909 by an interracial coalition who battled segregation and lynching and helped win some of the nation’s biggest civil rights victories. But in the wake of racial advances, membership has dwindled and the organization has operated at a deficit.
Jealous said his youth will be an asset to the organization.
“It means having somebody who is impatient and outraged that race is still a factor in our society,” he said.
His plans for the group include ensuring high voter turnout among blacks in the November election and pushing civil rights.
Jealous said he is eager to work with similar groups to push his agenda.
“This is the century when white people will become a minority in this country,” he said. “What that means is right now, we need to have a clear picture of where we’re headed and work together diligently with Latinos, Native Americans, Asians and progressive white groups as if our collective future depends on it. I’m committed to that.”