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NAACP Leaders Pledge to Put Focus on Social Action

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The NAACP’s national board chairman has an unlikely role model in his effort to reinvigorate the civil rights organization: the Christian Coalition.

“The coalition has a committed cadre of activists, as we do, but the organization and mobilization is more effective,” said Julian Bond, who launched his first NAACP annual convention Saturday as chairman of the powerful 64-member national board.

The meeting brings thousands of National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People members together to hear from leaders in social activism, politics and business.

Often, the annual gathering serves as a barometer of civil rights progress in America. In recent years, however, civil rights has had to vie with internal bickering and scandal for the members’ attention.

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But NAACP leaders such as President Kweisi Mfume, who runs the organization’s day-to-day operations from its Baltimore headquarters, said the group is putting social action back on the front burner.

“We have put our internal problems where they properly belong: behind us and in the past,” Mfume said.

Bond, a former Georgia state senator and activist who marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is intent on focusing on battles ahead, including preserving affirmative action in Washington state, supporting black farmers and helping define U.S. policy toward Africa.

While the NAACP and the Christian Coalition often differ ideologically, Bond said he admires the coalition’s power to mobilize its members rapidly into an effective lobbying arm.

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Bond also said he hopes to lead a slimmed-down NAACP that will be more focused on core issues rather than trying to cure every ill in black America.

“There is social service, and there is social justice, and we have to be able to draw that line,” he said.

“For example, AIDS itself is not our issue, but we do want to fight for social justice for blacks who have AIDS and ensure they are not discriminated against.”

Like Bond, Mfume said the organization must guard against an overly expanded agenda.

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“We should not and will not be all things to all people,” Mfume said.

But Mfume said he will focus this fall on using the national clout of about 500,000 NAACP members to elect a Congress more responsive to their goals.


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