The Rev. Alvin Carlisle sounded a bit like Mark Twain in making the case that the NAACP is still a worthwhile organization, offering a response similar to Twain’s when reacting to a false report of his death:
Any rumors of the demise of the 108-year-old organization have been greatly exaggerated, said Carlisle, the keynote speaker for Saturday night’s 52nd-annual Freedom Fund Banquet of the Surry branch of the National Organization for the Advancement of Colored People.
“I believe the NAACP is still viable — we are still relevant,” Carlisle said while looking at the crowd gathered in L.H. Jones Auditorium, which applauded comments by the speaker at times during his address.
“There’s still some fire in the room,” he acknowledged.
Carlisle, the senior pastor of Exodus United Baptist Church in Winston-Salem and the president of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County NAACP chapter, admitted that the organization is in an time of transition.
One reason for that was an announcement by the Rev. William Barber, the president of the state NAACP for the past 12 years, that he would step down this month to focus on a nationwide campaign to aid the poor. Barber is a highly visible figure known for advocating voting rights in North Carolina and leading Moral Monday protests in Raleigh.
Carlisle also cited a recent opinion piece in The New York Times in which the author questioned the NAACP’s relevance on a national scale today, saying it “carries the weight of history and burden of bureaucracy. But it does not seem willing to shed blood, literally, or in terms of the uncomfortable work that characterizes effective activism.”
The banquet speaker was adamant in contending that the NAACP might require rebooting or a shift in focus, but is far from done as an advocacy organization.
“We may need some tweaking, some change,” Carlisle said, but given minority concerns in the nation today related to education, proportionately high incarceration rates and voting accessibility, there is still “room or space for the work that we do.”
“I believe this is a time for us to be passionate members of the NAACP,” he added. “I believe we are in the right place at the right time.”
One of the ways the NAACP could improve, if indeed its national organization is “top-heavy,” Carlisle said, is to begin leading more from the bottom, through local NAACP branches such as the one in Surry. It was founded more than 50 years ago and uses funds from the Freedom Fund Banquet to finance various programs including a legal defense fund.
“I think it is important we are together tonight,” Carlisle said of grass roots gatherings, given everything going on in the state and nation.
He also thinks there needs to be more coordination among younger activists who recently have held rallies in the area, including engaging older people who’ve done the same thing. Carlisle cited one event in his community in which the youthful organizer failed to engage with groups such as the NAACP or urban league to build much-needed unity.
“While you were in diapers, we were in the streets, son,” Carlisle said he told the organizer.
Youthful activists certainly can learn from older ones, he stressed. “They need wisdom — they need direction.”
Meanwhile, the old can benefit from the energy and strength of the young, and accomplish great things. “It takes all of us,” Carlisle said. “Together we can really make something happen.”
Punctuating the special speaker’s remarks during Saturday night’s banquet was a group singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and later, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around.”
“I want to encourage you here in Surry, keep up the struggle,” said Carlisle, who also sees a solid future for the NAACP nationally — pointing out that it has weathered 108 years filled with turbulent times.
“And 108 years from now, the NAACP will still be here.”
Local NAACP President Faye Carter also urged banquet attendees to help boost membership and otherwise continue the fight, after Carlisle delivered his closing comments.
She told Carlisle that his message was greatly appreciated.
“Wonderful — wonderful delivery,” Carter said.
“You said everything we needed to hear.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.