“There is no coloration to rights. Everybody has rights. I don’t care who you are, where you come from. You got rights. I got rights. All God’s children got rights. We could make a song out of this. But anyway, I think this discussion is more a diversion than anything else. Because we all have rights. And they are human rights because we are human beings. And that’s just it for me.”
~ Julian Bond, Civil Rights Leader
For 108 years, the NAACP has fought for equality for all. With a mission “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination,” Black History Month is an especially poignant time to look at the strides made for equality, while acknowledging there is much work to be done.
The group itself was formed by a group of both African Americans and whites.
“One of the things that makes me proud to be affiliated with the NAACP is that, when it was founded back in 1909, it was founded primarily by a group of white people who observed and witnessed the struggles that people of the black race were dealing with just trying to be treated as everyday humans,” said Terrence Williamson, current president of the Fayette County NAACP Branch. “Something that I take great pride in is every time that I see someone that steps up and says ‘This is not about black and white, this is about right and wrong.’”
Williamson has just seen one of his proudest moments as a member of the local branch. This year’s Martin Luther King Day Parade through downtown Fayetteville brought out its largest crowd yet, and it was a diverse crowd.
“It made me feel good,” said Williamson. “When you see that it’s a rainbow of people that are speaking up saying this shall not stand, that’s what the NAACP is all about.”
It was the chance to work together with all races and affiliations that drew Williamson, who served in the military and then worked for the U.S. Department of State, in and led him to become the local chapter’s president this year.
“Everything that I did in my adult life I did it for all Americans, not just for black people, not just for white people, but for all people,” he said. “As such, when the opportunity arose to get more involved with an organization like the NAACP, I had my own reservations because what do you think of when you hear about the NAACP? That’s it’s all about black people. It’s not. If it was, then I wouldn’t be the president of the local branch because that’s not who Terry Williamson is.”
The Fayette County NAACP Branch is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year. The local branch is able to zero in their efforts and the county level, and that is how the fires were stoked to organize from the outset.
“It was started because there were a number of parents who were concerned that there was some unjustified and uneven application of discipline in the school system for minority students, and, when they tried to address that through the school system, they were not getting satisfactory responses,” said Williamson, noting that the branch now has a good working relationship with the school system.
Education is one of the biggest causes the NAACP champions, not just in battling for change when needed but also in celebrating successes. Students are sponsored to compete in contests and are honored with awards for their achievements. Students in need also receive needed supplies and resources.
“We try to help them to be better academians. We try to get them better prepared for college.”
The need for an organization like the NAACP now seems greater than ever with such a divisive political climate in the country. Words from Julian Bond again seem appropriate.
“Those were the days when politicians from both parties supported the struggle for civil rights, now they struggle to be civil,” said Bond
Williamson laments the seeming decline in cooperation between the political parties.
“At some point we’re going to have to get back to understanding that there’s a need for moderation. I firmly believe, and this is something that is at the core of the NAACP, that diversity produces a better product, and the same thing applies to politics,” he said. “You need a mixture of ideas coming in with people looking at things in a totally different way. You produce a better product.”
That is why the local branch is committed to educating the people, regardless of political affiliation. Knowledge is what matters most.
“We try to serve as honest brokers. The NAACP is very non-partisan,” said Williamson, noting that the election forums the group hosts locally bring together candidates from all parties. “You will often find the NAACP right there in the middle of it bringing Republicans, Democrats, and Tea Party together to address and discuss the issues. It is a role that we take very seriously.”
By striving to understand each other, we can find a common ground.
“I take it as my mission to understand the mindset of other folks that may be 180 degrees from my way of thinking. I want to understand where they’re coming from,” said Williamson. “The bottom line is that I very much believe that, in any situation, you can find some place where this is a nexus of agreement where you both agree. You may hate each others guts in a zillion others ways, but you can find that one point where you can agree on something and you start building from there.”
The rising numbers of political activists show that people do care, and they are willing to fight for what they believe in.
“When you look across the nation and the world and you see the vast numbers and mixture of people that are stepping up and saying no, this is not who we are, this is not our country, that is gratifying,” said Williamson. “Frankly I think it’s going to lead more people to step up and be active.”
Education is a key focus, but so are criminal justice, veteran’s issues, and voter rights. The Fayette County NAACP Branch was at the heart of the lawsuit involving the county and the school board that ultimately led to a new district voting system. They also keep a keen eye on any possible infringements on voting rights.
“We’re very interested in trying to do whatever we can to improve access to voting,” said Williamson. “We want to ensure that, when measures are made to screen out voters, that it’s done properly.”
When it comes down to it, the NAACP always needs more members to join the fight for equality.
“A lot of people outside the NAACP, when they think of the NAACP, they think of this big, huge, well-funded group with deep pockets, but that’s not the case,” said Williamson. “We need people.”
Whatever a person’s passion or expertise is, there is a key role they could play within the organization.
“The bulk of the work carried out by the NAACP is carried out under the committee structure,” said Williamson.
There are committees for education, political action, finance, health, and other groups all looking for additional members. Be it in education or public safety or in government, the Fayette County NAACP Branch wants to make sure everyone has the training and the tools to be fair and equal.
For more information on how to get involved, visit www.fcnaacp.org or call 770-954-6021.