Roland Martin spoke to Cornell Williams Brooks, the new NAACP President and CEO in his first broadcast since he announcement was made that he’d be taking on the role in the country’s most decorated civil rights organization.
On his first priority in office:
“The top priority would be to listen and engage a membership that reaches hundreds of thousands of people. I’m an heir of the NAACP so that’s the spirit I walk in,” Brooks says.
Click below to hear the rest of the interview or read it below:
ROLAND MARTIN: Yes, sir, Tom, Sybil and Jay, we chatted with Kip Ward, of course the first brother over the Africa Command, or First Commander overall, so we look forward to having a conversation with him about that. Tom, Friday, the NAACP Board met and they chose their new President and CEO, of course Ben Jealous resigned late last year after five years in the seat and they went to New Jersey and chose Cornell Williams Brooks. And he joins us this morning. This is his first broadcast interview since he was chosen. Cornell, first of all, welcome to the show and congratulations.
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Good morning, good morning. Thank you so much. It’s a great pleasure to be on the program.
ROLAND MARTIN: You are either walking into a position that very few have held. It is, of course, one of the top civil rights positions in the country. What is your first priority once you assume the helm beginning with the convention in July. What is your top priority?
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Well, the top priority would be to listen and engage a membership which reaches hundreds of thousands of members, but certainly in audience and the coalition of inclusion that stretches across the country. As you well know the NAACP has over 2,300 chapters, many members and it is a critically important in a profoundly democratic grassroots organization to engage the membership. But I’d love to note if I might that as a graduate of both Yale law school and Headstart, as well as a historically black college, Jackson State University, and the alma mater of Boston, of Martin Luther King’s Boston University School of Theology, I’m an heir, a beneficiary, a son if you will, of the NAACP. And I owe a tremendous debt of attitude. So that’s the spirit with which I walk into the office.
ROLAND MARTIN: I’m proud of you, Jackson State representing. But sir, what do you say to people who say that the NAACP isn’t relevant in 2000?
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Well, when we think about a great nation that is a family in perfect union, the NAACP is critically important to the perfecting of this union. And so the point being is if you look across the last 105 years, at every critical point, at every critical juncture, the NAACP has been there opening the doors of opportunity, opening wide, if you will, the avenues of opportunity for not only African Americans but Americans of every hue and every heritage from every corner of this country. And to question the relevance of the NAACP is the question of the relevance of democracy. The relevance of inclusion. The relevance of equality and opportunity. The issue is not whether the NAACP is irrelevant that the question is the degree to which America pays attention, pays heed to, and listens to the very relevant critical and important agenda of the NAACP.
ROLAND MARTIN: One issue you have to face is going to be that of financial. We’ve seen seven percent of the workforce of the NAACP laid off due to a financial issue. What is your plan, the gift of the organization, on firm, financial footing and not be in the position where you have these ebbs and flows. Are you looking at a significant endowment, reaching out to prominent African Americans, to let’s say raise $25, $50, $100 million dollars to protect the future financially of the NAACP?
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Well, one of the things that’s important to note is the NAACP has a number of hard assets, the first of which is a credibility, legitimacy and reputation of long standing, over 105 years, that’s a hard asset. Number two we have some of the best, most thoughtful, brilliant minds in the country who are committed to the work of the NAACP. Number three, I believe that there are millions of Americans, millions of people of good will, and certainly many institutions who are invested and committed to the work of the NAACP. And so it really would be a matter going beyond a mere development plan to tap into the resources we have in this country, certainly to build an endowment, certainly to build significant reserves, and certainly to build most importantly a bold, strong, aggressive civil rights agenda that speaks to the 21st century challenges our century faces.
ROLAND MARTIN: When you speak about a bold civil rights agenda economics is one of the critical issues. We just saw last year $23 billion dollars provided to small business loans backed by the SPA. Only 1.7% went to African American businesses, some $385 million. I have not heard of a lot of focus on that. Do you see that economic empowered, economic equality, economic parity is the most fundamental issue facing African Americans moving forward?
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Well, let me say this both as a matter of biography and aspiration. Having spent time at the Federal Communications Commission focusing on the challenges facing small minority and women owned businesses. Having labored for many years as a civil rights litigator, having seen in the streets of Newark and across the country and my work as the civil rights lawyer the twin challenges of disinvestment in African American communities and under investment in African American communities alongside a rising tide of income and equality. The NAACP should and continue to focus relentlessly on economic investment. Small businesses are a key killer in that house, if you will, of democracy and economics. So …
ROLAND MARTIN: Last question, real quick, watching somebody who is under 30 invest their time, energy and resources in the NAACP.
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Why should a person?
ROLAND MARTIN: Yes.
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Well, when we look at some of the icons, if you will, of the civil rights movement, both John Lewis and Chairman Emeritus Julian Bond, they began their careers as very young men and young people in the civil rights movement. The 21st century civil rights challenges facing this country can only be met by the youngest, most aggressive, most visionary people in this country. Those are the very people I am hoping to reach out to alongside those who are older, their elders, who invested in those young people and those challenges.
ROLAND MARTIN: All right, Cornell Williams Brooks, the new President and CEO of the NAACP will assume the helm in the July national convention. Thank you for joining us on the Tom Joyner Morning Show.
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Thank you.
SYBIL WILKES: Good luck.
TOM JOYNER: Good luck, sir.
CORNELL WILLIAMS BROOKS: Thank you.
TOM JOYNER: And full disclosure, she’s a friend of mine, what’s going to happen to Loraine Miller.
ROLAND MARTIN: She was president on an interim basis.
TOM JOYNER: I know, that’s why I’m asking what’s going to happen my friend.
ROLAND MARTIN: She going to retirement. (Laughter)PLAY AUDIO