Leaders at the NAACP are preparing to embark on a listening tour to inform the future, more locally focused direction of the organization. Cornell William Brooks, president of the organization for the past three years, will not be joining them. Brooks’ contract, which expires on June 30, will not be renewed, Leon W. Russell, chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors, and Derrick Johnson, vice chairman, told reporters late Friday afternoon.
No timetable has been set in selecting a new president, Johnson said, adding that the organization will “take time” in doing so. Russell and Johnson will run the organization on a daily basis in the interim. The next step, according to Russell, will be to conduct a listening tour, the first in NAACP history, to inform organizational strategy based on the individuals served.
“We have to be local, we have to be strong at the local level,” Russell said. “We believe that we needed some measureable objectives. We understand and appreciate the historic model of protest, but at this point in time, we believe as an organization that we need to retool to be better advocates.”
The organization, as leaders eye future strategy, wants its first step to be toward strengthening local activism, Johnson added, and to be more focused on state policies. The search for a new leader happens to coincide with the organization’s last strategic process coming to a close – accelerating the search for a new organizational direction.
News of Brooks’ departure comes nearly three years to the day that Brooks was announced as the organization’s new president – May 17, 2014. The date coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Brooks had joined the organization during a turbulent time; the Los Angeles chapter president had recently resigned and the organization announced a 7-percent cut in staffing at its Baltimore, Md. headquarters shortly before Brooks’ arrival.
Prior to coming to the NAACP, Brooks served as president and CEO of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice. He also served as senior counsel for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington, and a trial attorney with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Russell denied that Brooks had previously been told that his contract would be renewed and said that no specific event influenced the decision to not retain Brooks. The move also isn’t indicative of anything wrong at the organization but rather an opportunity to improve, he said. The NAACP’s Executive Committee made the determination that it would be best not to renew the contract, according to Russell. He acknowledged the visibility the NAACP garnered under Brooks, including the 50th anniversary of the Selma march in 2015. “We appreciate him being there for them,” he said of such events.
The NAACP president answers to the board of directors’ 17-person executive committee. The board itself consists of 64 members, Russell said, and will have final say on the selection of a new president as it has in the past, “but that process won’t necessarily look like the same process we’ve used before,” Russell said. A job description for the position is not yet set, with the plan being to discuss the position as a board, gain input, and then feed that input back to the board of directors.
When asked how the NAACP will proceed under his and Johnson’s leadership, Russell indicated that it will be business as usual, with national and local programming already active and in place. No “slowdown” will take place, he said. “I don’t think that this organization, in its 108-year history, has been a one-man operation,” Russell said. “We see that the individual identity is something we need as a leader, but the fact that we made a change doesn’t stop anything. Programming will continue moving forward….We’re not stopping. We’re moving on.”