Boston NAACP Should Undergo Good Faith Audit For Community
by: Jamarhl Crawford
The Boston NAACP has long touted its unique distinction as “The first chartered branch of the NAACP – Established 1911” and has positioned itself as a go-to organization on issues of civil rights and discrimination in Boston. The history is a long and proud one, including historic figures like William Monroe Trotter, Melnea Cass and others. Nationally and locally, the NAACP is seen by some as a civil rights savior and by others as a ineffective organization who has lost it way. Critics long for the fire of the Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hamer who valiantly spoke out in no uncertain terms about Jim Crow and Lynchings. Over the years as the Civil Rights movement gave way to the Black Power movement, the NAACP lost some of its significance as a new generation turned to Black Nationalism, Black Liberation and Black Power as a more direct approach to systemic oppression.
The NAACP is indeed a long-standing, well-respected organization but it is not perfect. Across the country there have been numerous scandals about mismanagement in local NAACP branches and even in National. These scandals have erupted over the decades from Benjamin Chavis to Kweisi Mfume days and have happened repeatedly since at national and local levels. In these days of image conscious ads and mega corporations the NAACP has gone right along with the times. Since the 80’s the organization has re-shaped itself into a new, slicker version moving from rubbing the system the wrong way to rubbing elbows and many would say greasing palms as was the case with our good friend Donald Sterling resulting in the resignation of the Jheri-Curled LA Branch President, Leon Jenkins.
In Philadelphia this past April local branch President Jerome Mondesire came under fire and after remaining silent for as long as he could, he caved in to mounting public pressure and finally admitted “human error” for mismanaging and co-mingling branch finances. The thing about leadership is you have to be willing to admit to your wrongs and take whatever appropriate discipline comes your way or you can prove yourself innocent and exonerate yourself in the eyes of those who have placed so much faith and trust in your leadership. The other thing about leadership is it often inflates your head and makes it extremely difficult to take any criticisms or be willing to be transparent and held accountable. Such is the case here in Boston.
The Boston NAACP is no different than the hundreds of branches across the country. They not only serve and have a responsibility to their membership, they have a responsibility to the People of Color whose “advancement” they pursue. One thing that is a common thread in every case of impropriety or mismanagement within the organization is the reluctance of the public to “throw the organization under the bus” because of our romanticized and nostalgic view of the NAACP. People, both white and black, often find it difficult to publicly critique the organization because it could be seen as politically incorrect or as attacking Black leadership. There is a time for loyalty and there is a time for clarity.
Recently, allegations were made by former candidate for the Presidency of the Boston NAACP, Larry Ellison. Ellison states that in his pursuit of this office he uncovered some discrepancies in the Boston branch finances. These allegations came as a shock to many, however, there are others who have heard these and similar concerns since Michael Curry became President in 2010. Thus far Curry and his supporters have scoffed at all allegations, calling them “sour grapes” and a “scorched earth campaign” on the part of Ellison. The tone has been dismissive and defensive, in my opinion not the appropriate posture for the leader of such an esteemed organization.
While not an elected official, Michael Curry is certainly in the public eye and given the prominence of his position and the faith many have had in the NAACP for decades, it is incumbent on him to address these allegations seriously. Michael Curry and the Boston NAACP are just like you and I, they are subject to the same laws of responsibility and accountability. One could argue that the history of the organization actually places on them an even heavier burden and they are morally obligated to hold themselves to a higher standard.
Since Curry has been President there have been serious concerns about the inappropriate and possibly illegal use of bequeathed funds. There was at least one instance when the Boston branch had people working for candidates on election day, made famous by a call in to Touch FM by a disgruntled and unpaid worker first blasting the branch and then a few days later apologizing and “clearing up” the situation by stating “Boston Branch President Curry came to my house to pay me my money himself.” There are questions as to the branch’s non-profit status (The Boston NAACP is a 501c4) and the status of at least one of its fiscal sponsors “The New England Civil Rights Fund” which was created in 2011 as a fiscal conduit for the branch. The New England Civil Rights Fund has its listed Directors and Board Members as 3 of Curry’s inner circle including his long time girlfriend. Currently, the non-profit status of this fund is revoked as of June 2014, which could bring into question any fundraising done in this time period and could present a problem to those who donated in the past. (note: I have just received information that this status was restored)
Michael Curry has made many public comments offering his own critique on policy or instances such as the now infamous Boston Herald watermelon toothpaste cartoon. In public appearances Curry often speaks about transparency, accountability and community responsibility. He often suggest open public meetings as a means to mediate and/or negotiate. He even chastised City Councillor Charles Yancey and accused him of being disingenuous. Now is the time for Curry to take the high road and open up the Boston branches books to at least a 5yr audit by an independent entity.
Nothing beats criticism like full transparency. If Ellison and others in the community who have questions, including myself, are so misinformed, confused and off-base, why not present the community with the proof of your innocence and the error of our ways? Any non-profit or for-profit corporation is a public entity. In a community like ours no one is above questioning. The very institution of the Black Church was under major scrutiny when Charles St. AME was criticized and taken to task. The Baystate Banner’s Melvin Miller was criticized by the Globe for repayment of BRA loan. Two of our most prominent elected officials were raked over the coals for meager sums of money. The Boston NAACP is no different and Michael Curry should address these very serious allegations before the Boston branch election on Novmber 24th.
A few points in all fairness.
*In full disclosure, I was never a supporter of Curry as NAACP President. I worked for Sen. Bill Owens who ran against Curry in the first election and am a supporter of Larry Ellison.
*There are many more questions, issues and concerns I could have raised here, but this piece was solely focused on the financial allegations. Any concerns about leadership style, what work is being done or issues are being championed will have to wait for a separate piece.
*Michael Curry and I have famously not gotten along, matter of fact on this VERY DAY (weird) OCT. 24th 2012 Curry blasted me on Touch FM