Changes at National Urban League & NAACP Signal Changes in Civil Rights Movement

What’s happening in the national Civil Rights Movement?

Bruce Gordon, the head of the NAACP, announced his resignation today. He is at odds with the NAACP’s board because he wants to focus more on social services, while the board wants to maintain the group’s more traditional role as an advocacy organization.

I believe that Bruce Gordon is dead-on in wanting to connect advocacy to tangible social services on the ground. An example of a two-pronged approach to this would be lobbying against police brutality (advocating) while at the same time training Black men on how to deal with the police (social service through training). I pray that Gordon’s departure does not mean that such a program would not be possible from the NAACP.

The Chicago Urban League last week announced that it is rolling out a new agenda focusing less on social services and more on economic empowerment. The National Urban League has over the years been transitioning from its roots as a economically-focused organization to one that has taken on more social services, but this represents a change in tactics and a return towards its initial goals at its founding.

I believe that the Urban League was heading down a great path by combining their economic and social agendas. An example of a two-pronged approach to this that I worked with last year was an after-school program for high school students (social service) that trained them on how to be entrepreneurs (economic empowerment). I pray that Chicago and other Urban Leagues around the coutry’s shift in focus does not mean that such a program would not be possible from them in the future.

What does this mean? I think it signals that a split in the movement that has existed since its beginnings still exists today. The question is, why are social services and economic empowerment treated as two ideals that cannot be strived for simultaneously?

One Love. One II.

Black Issues
Civil Rights


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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I am the City of Detroit's first ever Deputy Technology Director for Civic Community Engagement. My job is to open up the city's public data and information for the consumption and benefit of all Detroiters. I currently live in Detroit, my hometown, with my beautiful wife Ellen and our twins Garlin III and Emily Grace. I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora, and was formerly the National Campaign Director at I also co-hosted The #WinReport on "The Good Fight," a an award winning, nationally syndicated radio show that was one of Apple's Best of 2013. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. I spent two years creating and implementing a strategy for the Center to take it's 40 years of community organizing experience into the digital age. I speak before diverse audiences on effective & responsive government, empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation through emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet. Full bio here.

6 responses to “Changes at National Urban League & NAACP Signal Changes in Civil Rights Movement”

  1. Garlin II says :

    More on this story.

    Key Quote from the article:
    Mr. Gordon said he did not believe that the organization should abandon its civil rights mission but rather that it should expand its role to include providing social services. “This is not an either/or,” he said. “There needs to be the right balance between advocacy and service.”

    Gordon agrees with me.

  2. "The Consigliere" says :

    I would only think that it is too obvious that you would want to put your theory into practice. Why would the NAACP wait for something to happen rather than take preemptive action also. Advocacy takes a lot of time and energy, why doing nothing to improve the community’s relationship and understanding. As a people in general, we need to move from the “give a fish” mentality to the “teach a man how to fish” mentality. If our leaders and most venerable institutions cannot see the big picture, then what will the people do?

    Economic empowerment to really be achieved is going to have to take the form of social services. How do they plan on getting information to the people? How do they plan on empowering people who are hungry. It is hard to listen to anything over my stomach grumbling and my pockets being empty. Actions always speak louder than words at the end of the day.

  3. Garlin II says :

    I agree Steve. What is important to note here is that advocacy, economic empowerment, and social service are joined at the hip. One is not truly sustainable without the other two.

    We could be seeing the difference in generations when it comes to approaching Civil Rights. People such as myself and others in my generation would like to use social services as the primary vehicle through which we advocate and bring about economic empowerment. Previous generation(s) may have found it more appropriate to focus on advocacy even at the expense of social services, believing that successfully advocacy would lead to better services in the future.

    Perhaps that was true at some point, but I believe that today is a time where we can do both at the same time. I am disturbed that the Board of the NAACP, which is representative of the previous generation’s mindset, is losing perspective and not seeing the need to broaden the organization’s scope.

    What this means Steve is that “the people” you mention will fill this potential void of services by giving more of themselves to serve the needs of others if/when these over-arching institutions do not see that as an immediate priority.

  4. Al says :

    What’s going on people?! This is Alex. I registered on the blog yesterday and figured I’d weigh in on the subject. I think that the NAACP fails to either realize or admit that a lot has changed in the black community within the past 20 to 30 yrs. On the NPR broadcast “News and Notes”, Ron Walters said that a past problem for the NAACP (and the Congressional Black Caucus) was that they were trying to all inclusively serve the black struggle and that they focused on advocacy while leaving other objectives, such as social services, to other groups inlcuding the Urban league. The problem is not only has there been less of a need for advocacy but these other organizations that were counted on for these other issues have become less productive or have siezed to exist altogether. As a matter of fact, i would say the our defaultive nature to advocative solutions is a problem, in itself, to the community (e.g. Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton)

  5. Anonymous says :

    I am finally happy to hear that there are Black people other than NAACPers who are concerned about Black People.

    Now, if you all can get together, you can form your own social services organization, and do everything you want to do to help!

    Been waiting on y’all to give back.

  6. Vanessa says :


    (Am posting this comment here because can’t access other contact forms at National Urban League); This is in response to the meeting in at the Urban League in Winston-Salem, North Carolina on 6/25/09 in which I was given permission to come back on the primacies after being told that I wasn’t allowed to use the computers at the Urban League.

    To: Mr. Herman Lessard

    After asking you to call and intervene, met with Mr. A. Borders and Mr. Bialy who said that I have permission to use the Urban League computers. Neither would give me a letter stating that I had permission to be on the primacies (sp), which I prefer because of numerous other situations in which requests have/had been made asking me to leave the property for no reason; some of the places I have gone to for decades, since a child. And a lot of them associated with computer use.
    So I am still a little concerned about access to the computers at the Urban League; to date nobody has given me a reason why I was asked to leave the primacies (sp).
    Mr. Boarders said it was a bad day; that’s why he said I couldn’t use the computers, but everybody couldn’t possibly be having a bad day to the point that over five to six places within a six month period of time; had asked me to leave where there was the public use of computers with access to the internet; and I was always asked me to leave without an explanation. In some cases, a security guard would say that I was in violation of a rule; but never stated the rule; and when they asked me to leave the primacies, I would just leave the property; just as Mr. Boarders asked me to leave the Urban League properties in December of 2008.
    Prior to that in about October of 2008, one of the public libraries put me off of the internet; and one of the local universties asked me to leave their primacies; it appears as if all the places with internet access were asking me to leave; thus I feel that to have a letter stating I have permission to be on the primacies would give me protection and ease of mind when on their primacies.

    The other thing is that Mr. Boarders kept saying that it was a one day occurrence, that I had been coming to the Urban League program for over ten years, (which is true) and so therefore was a part of the Urban League Family and because of local community I would like to state that I appreciate the Urban League in the African American community; and would greatly appreciate it if it is possible for me to access the community resources at the Urban League without having to be a member of the Urban League FAMILY. That is the first time I have ever heard that statement. Please know that I would appreciate access to the resources without having to participate in any form of family/club; especially to the point that I have to give up my identity/personal life as an individual within the local community.

    And being that after over ten years of going tot he Urban League for a job with two degrees; it would be greatly appreciated if employment could be access through the Urban League even if not labeled as a member of the Urban League FAMILY..

    Thank you for your assistance.

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