The NAACP Was Founded by White People and It Still Isn’t Looking Out for Black Families

Oct 13, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Sharif El-Mekki

  Some organizations are committed to a cause. Everyone knows exactly what they stand for. Look at Greenpeace—everybody knows that they’re about reducing human harm to the environment. All of Greenpeace’s resources go towards pulling the specific levers that help make an impact on saving the planet. There’s no confusion there. Then you have the NAACP. Organizations like this run around parroting phrases and taking whatever stance happens to suit their highest funder on any given day. To have impact, you need alignment and commitment to a cause. Schizophrenic organizations like the NAACP muddle messaging and bumble outcomes. They don’t drive towards any specific goals, they don’t support commitments that they supposedly stand for.

Built That Way

But maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. The NAACP was started mostly by White people to advance the “colored” people of America. True, civil rights legend W.E.B. DuBois was one of the founders, but even he eventually left after becoming disillusioned with the organization for failing to agitate enough and pursuing a “propagandistic approach.” David Levering Lewis, a scholar and historian of W.E.B. DuBois at New York University, recently shared how disappointed he believed DuBois would be with today’s morally anemic version of the NAACP. “DuBois would, I believe, be disappointed that the NAACP has not led but followed behind the great issues of the 21st century.” Some would say that today's NAACP is an acronym for the National Association for the Advancement of Certain People. It is conspicuously not for the advancement of the millions of Black families trying to escape failing systems and schools. The association was beholden to White folks from the beginning (less than 10 of the 60 founding members of the NAACP were Black), and today they haven’t stumbled far from their original course. Today, White folks still hold tremendous influence over the NAACP, but now much of it is through the support of labor unions— 70 percent of whose members are White . Particularly for teachers unions, you’d hope that the mostly White members would be aligned with the cause of the oppressed and marginalized of the country. But as far as I can tell from their agenda, they are more aligned with themselves. 

About This Moratorium

This Saturday the NAACP board is voting on a resolution to call for a halt to all new public charter schools in the country. In the opinion of delegates who framed the resolution, “charter schools have operated without sufficient transparency; intensified segregation; employed psychologically harmful disciplinary policies; and deprived neighborhood public schools of necessary space and resources through co-location in district buildings.” Newsflash…they also don’t want their kids to attend school with yours. And I’m quite sure that these NAACP leaders don’t send their kids to the schools that parents recognize as drop-out factories. The NAACP claims to be taking a stance against school segregation through this moratorium on charters. But if you look at my town of Philly, for instance, those few schools that are integrated don’t reflect the general school (or city) population. The top-ranked school in the city, Masterman, is about 40 percent White, 28 percent Asian, 18 percent African-American and 5 percent Latino. Maybe you consider that “integrated,” but that high school is much Whiter and more Asian than the city I live in—the School District of Philadelphia is less than 8 percent Asian and only 14 percent White. Even more troubling data is that up to 44 percent of Philadelphia’s teachers enroll their own children in private schools— four times the national average . There it is: school choice. This is the very privilege that the NAACP elites and their teachers union allies want to maintain for themselves. Also, 37 percent of Philly’s students attend charter schools. An additional 11 percent attend private schools. When you add the numbers of students who attend magnet and other criteria-based schools, it is clear that the NAACP is far off the mark. In the neighborhood where I live and work, which is almost entirely African-American, only 30 percent of the families send their students to the district-run neighborhood schools. A full 70 percent of the families in my community have already opted out. Do the so-called “civil rights leaders” at the NAACP want to simply make it harder for these families? Whose purpose does this moratorium serve? 
An original version of this post appeared on Philly's 7th Ward.

Sharif El-Mekki

Sharif El-Mekki is the Founder and CEO of the Center for Black Educator Development. The Center exists to ensure there will be equity in the recruiting, training, hiring, and retention of quality educators that reflect the cultural backgrounds and share common socio-political interests of the students they serve. The Center is developing a nationally relevant model to measurably increase teacher diversity and support Black educators through four pillars: Professional learning, Pipeline, Policies and Pedagogy. So far, the Center has developed ongoing and direct professional learning and coaching opportunities for Black teachers and other educators serving students of color. The Center also carries forth the freedom or liberation school legacy by hosting a Freedom School that incorporates research-based curricula and exposes high school and college students to the teaching profession to help fuel a pipeline of Black educators. Prior to founding the Center, El-Mekki served as a nationally recognized principal and U.S. Department of Education Principal Ambassador Fellow. El-Mekki’s school, Mastery Charter Shoemaker, was recognized by President Obama and Oprah Winfrey, and was awarded the prestigious EPIC award for three consecutive years as being amongst the top three schools in the country for accelerating students’ achievement levels. The Shoemaker Campus was also recognized as one of the top ten middle school and top ten high schools in the state of Pennsylvania for accelerating the achievement levels of African-American students. Over the years, El-Mekki has served as a part of the U.S. delegation to multiple international conferences on education. He is also the founder of the Fellowship: Black Male Educators for Social Justice, an organization dedicated to recruiting, retaining, and developing Black male teachers. El-Mekki blogs on Philly's 7th Ward, is a member of the 8 Black Hands podcast, and serves on several boards and committees focused on educational and racial justice.

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