Boston NAACP moves to recapture relevance
The NAACP’s Boston branch all but dropped out of sight in recent years, but new president Michael Curry is looking to erase doubts about the all-volunteer organization’s relevancy by stepping up its advocacy for civil rights in education and the workplace.
Since moving into the top slot earlier this year, the 42-year-old Curry has focused on recruiting a team of teachers, doctors, lawyers, and community activists to prioritize the specific issues that the branch will home in on in the months ahead. But he’s concerned about school closings in Boston and their impact on students of color, and employment discrimination.
Curry would like to launch a polling project to begin to get a handle on how many people have experienced discrimination in the workplace. “I get more [employment] discrimination calls than I would have ever imagined,” he says. “Most employment discrimination cases never make it to [the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination], but they do come through our office.”
He recognizes that apathy may be one of the local NAACP chapter’s biggest obstacles. “People have given up and given in to racial profiling and police brutality,” says Curry, who grew up in Roxbury and Dorchester. “We live in a generation where people say, ‘Hey, no one is going to do anything about it anyway.’”
Curry understands the stresses of living in violence-plagued neighborhoods. Curry was twice mugged at knife-point as a teenager, and says fights, shootings, and the murders of family members were facts of his life. Now the senior counsel and legislative affairs director at the Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers, he pushed himself to excel, graduating from Boston Latin Academy, St. Paul’s Macalester College, and the New England School of Law.
Breathing new life into the Boston branch of the NAACP won’t be easy. Jamarhl Crawford, the editor of Blackstonian, a news and features website, compares the organization to a favorite restaurant whose customers trickled away over the years as the quality declined. “Now you have to convince them that the sweet potato pie is good again,” he says.
Opinions vary on what the organization should be doing. Crawford says it should do what it does best, legal advocacy and bringing attention to specific issues percolating in black neighborhoods, such as returning to an elected school committee. But Barbara Lewis, director of the Trotter Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, thinks the organization, which marks its centennial this year, needs to initiate long-overdue conversations about Boston’s troubled racial history.Curry wonders if even a broader discussion about race can happen. “To be very honest with you, I don’t think people…want to have an honest conversation,” Curry says. “They want to say, ‘Hey, slavery happened a long time ago; segregation is over; we’re all good; we love each other now; we’ve got a black president, let’s move on.’”
Curry says Deval Patrick’s rise to governor is the exception, not the rule. “The reality is that we are dealing with the taint of racism in the attitudes of people and institutions,” he says.