WASHINGTON (AP) — The next president of the nation’s largest and oldest civil rights group needs to be energetic, charismatic and willing to make a personal sacrifice, NAACP leaders say.
The group’s board is beginning its search for a successor to outgoing President and CEO Benjamin Jealous, who announced this week that he will step down at the end of the year. The NAACP board is forming a search committee and plans to meet in late October to plan for the leadership change.
“My concern is identifying somebody who is energetic, familiar with this digital age and new technology, and, more importantly, who is able to go and continue to energize our thousands of chapters, or units as we call them, throughout this country,” said board member Ernest Johnson of Louisiana.
Leading a group with 64 board members and a long history is a job that requires a unique set of skills.
“First, you have to realize it’s not a job — it’s a lifestyle, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said board member Kamilia Landrum of Detroit. “You are representing and living for the movement. The pressure is hard. Every word you say is in the public eye. You have to be almost Baptist preacher, corporate America, or father and husband at the same time.”
After suffering turbulent leadership changes and scandals in the past, the NAACP board is determined to have a smooth transition this time.
Chairman Roslyn Brock said the group plans to continue fighting for voting rights, health care, a higher minimum wage and immigration reform, among other issues.
“The NAACP is alive, and it’s well,” Brock said. “The work goes on, and there’s so much for us to do.”
Perhaps no one understands the challenges the next president will face better than Jealous himself. The job is unique in its intensity, Jealous said Monday, because “you commit to work 24/7/365 and spend half your year on an airplane and every minute working to advance the cause of civil and human rights.”
In a written statement to The Associated Press, Jealous vowed the transition to a new leader would be orderly and planned.
When he was hired for the job in 2008, Jealous became the group’s youngest-ever leader at the age of 35.
Under Jealous, the group worked to abolish death-penalty laws in at least four states, opposed “stop-and-frisk” police tactics and stand-your-ground laws following the death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and embraced gay rights in an historic 2012 vote.
Donations have increased from $23 million in 2007 — the year before Jealous was hired — to $46 million in 2012, he said. The group also said its donors have increased from 16,000 people giving each year to more than 132,000.
“I think we need someone who appreciates that this is a long-term race that we have to be in … that the NAACP is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic organization. We don’t want to be a black organization,” Brock said.