Video: “Is There a Gideon Among Us?”

Read the full text of President & CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous' plenary address at the 102nd NAACP Annual Convention below the video:

Greetings Chairman Brock,  Chairman Duffy, Vice Chairman Russell, Vice Chairman Maxwell, members, unit leaders, board members, trustees, and friends.

It is good to be back in my home state of California and with the California State Conference---Home to great warriors like Alice Huffman, Willis Edwards, and Amos Brown…and young leaders like Zephanii Smith.

Before I get started, please allow me to recognize my family.   I am proud today to be joined by three of the most important women in my life.  My mom Ann, who is here as a delegate from our home branch, the branch that trained me, the Monterey County Branch of the NAACP.

My wife Lia-- who is an accomplished advocate for civil and human rights in her own right.

And our daughter Morgan-- who is a budding champion for the rights of those who are four feet tall and under, a talented debater, and a sixth-generation member of the NAACP.

Please give them-- and the families who support each and every one of us in our work a hand.

I am proud to serve as your seventeenth President, proud to serve alongside Chairman Brock, and proud to stand before you today and report that the state of the NAACP is strong.

SINCE THE START of 2008, the ranks of our online activists have swollen from 170,000 to more than 510,000 today.

At the same time, the ranks of our individual donors have increased 400 percent from less than 20,000 to 107,000.

And finally, thanks to the work of thousands of people in this room and throughout the country, we can say that membership us up...up....up!

Up in 2009

Up in 2010

And as of the end of the first half of this year—new membership sales are Up 24.4 percent over the first half of last year.   Making this the first time in more than Two decades that membership sales and renewals have increased three years in a row.

Give yourselves a hand!  Because we all know it is the local and campus units that sell most of our memberships every year.  And as we all know so well--- Membership is power.

Moreover ALL of our Program Departments have been reopened... ALL of our regional director positions are being filled ...  and every day our national office becomes better able to support you in the work each of us do every day to assure that America's promise is a reality for every person living in this Country.

It is good to be in the black, and Ladies and gentlemen, I am here today to tell you that after 3 years in the black, our revenue is back to pre-crisis levels and the financial crisis in the NAACP national office is officially over.

Please give our Chairmen, our Board, our Trustees a hand.  And please give a roaring round of applause to the greatest staff of any civil and human rights organization in the world.

And most importantly, give yourselves a hand and get ready to stand up.

If you have donated 1000 hours of your time to the NAACP in the past year to the NAACP--that's about 20 hours a week—pleased stand up.
If you donated 250 hours of your time to the NAACP in the past year, that's about 5 hours a week please stand up.
And if you gave any of your time, your talent, or your treasure to the NAACP in the past year… please stand up.

Now let's all give each other a hand, because it is the hard work, sacrifice, and faith of the committed souls in this room-- and the more than two hundred rooms like it we could fill with our active members and supporters--that empowers us all to go forth with the knowledge and faith that it never has been a question of if we will win, but only a question of when we will win.

I reference that faith—the faith that turns bold dreams into big victories for three reasons:

ONE: It works.

TWO: It turns people who are children in one moment into the leaders of the next.

AND THREE: It is our foundation and rock in moments like the one we are living through right now.

As I said, it works.  And within the last year it has empowered the NAACP and our allies:

-- to get Illinois to abolish the death penalty—putting us within ten states of meeting the Constitutional standard to catch up with the rest of the world and abolishing the death penalty entirely.

-- to move more than two hundred thousand people to Washington last fall for what was the most diverse March on Washington our nation has ever seen. 

--to attract unlikely allies like Newt Gingrich and California's Prison Guards to stand with us and say enough is enough, we must spend less on prisons and more on education.

--To pass the Mathew Sheppard and James Byrd Bill in Congress and send a powerful message to the states—that a hate crime is a hate crime is a hate crime!

And for those out there who question why we do what we do, or who we do it with---  Let me remind you today--- That as the late great Shirley Chisolm has always reminded us-- We have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies……..all we have is our permanent interests … and for the last 102 years the Interest of the NAACP has been the eradication of racial discrimination of all forms and the promise of opportunity for all people.   And let us be clear...that no headline nor editorial will every change that.

Second, I mention our great faith—the faith of martyrs like Medgar Evers and Harry and Harriet Moore —because in teaching it to our children we propel them to greatness.  In the past year or so, we have seen the fruit of investments made in past decades bloom across the country:

  • Steve Benjamin, raised up in NAACP youth and college, has become the first black mayor of a major city in South Carolina since Reconstruction.
  • Kamala Harris-- a child of civil rights activists and mentee of former NAACP board member Willie Brown--has become the first Black and the first Asian American State Attorney General west of the Rockies and the leading pioneer of the “Smart on Crime” movement to fix our nation’s broken justice system
  • Alvin Brown, a long time active member of our Florida State Conference has become the first black mayor of Jacksonville, Florida.  His opponents tried to stop him in his tracks by calling “the NAACP Mayor”.  He never ran from it.  And he won.


  • Stacey Abrams who is here with us today --truly my sister in every way but one--a product of NAACP youth and college and ACT-SO has at 36 become the Minority Leader of the Georgia Assembly.  The first black to lead a party in either house Georgia's legislature since Reconstruction and the first woman ever.

Finally, I bring our attention to this great faith of the NAACP—the faith of great NAACP warriors like Juanita Mitchell who founded our youth and college division 75 years ago this year and Joel Spingarn who was out first lawyer—because in moments like these—when it seems that history is running in both directions at once—we MUST protect the victories and gains we have made already, even as we advance toward the next frontier.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are the best of times and these are the worst of times.

We have our first black president.  We have our first black female CEO of a fortune 500 company.  Oprah Winfrey owns her own TV network.  Tyler Perry owns his own movie studio.  And every major city has its resident black millionaires.  And we are proud of all of them.

And yet at the same time, poverty is at depression era levels.  Homeownership is down. Foreclosures are up. HIV rates among black and brown youth are way too high… and high school graduation rates are way too low.  Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, and Pell Grants are all being threatened as we speak.

(And on that note, let me send a very clear message from us to the leaders in congress, less than a year ago you made tax cuts worth 4OO billion dollars a year.  Now you want to cut 4 trillion dollars in expenses over the next ten years to pay for these tax cuts.  Great nations do not remain great when they balance their budgets by making the elderly go hungry, children do without medical treatment, or students stop their learning.  Before you let the American DREAM  expire,  let alone people expire unnecessarily, let the tax cuts expire.)

Perhaps the most perplexing examples of the contradictions of this moment in history is that Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s first Governor of Color continues to fly the confederate flag in front of her state’s capitol.  Given the similarities between our struggles to end slavery and segregation, and her ancestors struggle to end British colonialism and oppression in India, my question to Governor Haley is ONE THAT Dr. King often asked himself----: “What would Gandhi do?”

I remember when I first realized history seemed to be moving in two directions at once.

It was twenty years ago, this year. I was in college and a friend was turning twenty one.

Another friend started a round of toasts...

The first toast was for our friend who was turning 21.  The next was a pouring libation in memory of all our peers who had been cut down and died before we even got to college.

And then someone held his glass high and celebrated the fact that one more of us had survived to 21… as if in the wealthiest nation on the planet and in the greatest democracy the world has ever known, it should be an accomplishment for a man of any color to merely survive to 21.

I could not raise my glass to that last toast.  It had cut me like a knife and I was sick in my soul for days.

Soon after I went down to my grandmother’s house and laid my burdens on her table.  I said, “Grandma, what happened?  You told me that my generation was to be the first generation of people of color in this country to be judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.  And yet we have come of age just in time to find that we are the most murdered generation in the country and the most incarcerated generation on the planet.

My grandmother’s response was short.  She said,

“Grandson, it is sad but it’s simple – our people got what we fought for, but we lost what we had.

We got what we fought for … but we lost what we had.

In that short summation of the last 100 years of the struggle for freedom in this country-- my grandmother issued a subtle admonition that at any moment in the fight for freedom and justice, we must have a plan for both getting what we deserve and need AND also for protecting what we have already have won and received.

Right now if we are honest with ourselves, all of it is under attack - what we fought for is under attack –

-the right to organize,

--the right to choose,

--the right of immigrants to be respected,

--the right of all people to have a fair shot at employment and contracting opportunities,

--and even the right to vote itself.

And let us be clear the right to vote is the right upon which all of our rights are leveraged and without which, without that vital access to the ballot box, none can be protected.

And simultaneously what we have is under attack too

- Our homes that are disappearing by the day,

-- Our jobs which have left so many places and never come back,

--and our families which continue to fall apart in front of our faces at a rate which is absolutely frightening.

If we are going to stop and turn back the assault on our rights, we MUST be crystal clear that there is nothing more important to be fighting for than Restoring, Expanding and protecting our Voting Rights.

AND that is why this fall—in 2011—we and the National Urban League with support and participation from TV ONE, Radio One, BET, American Urban Radio Networks, Tom Joyner, Bev Smith, Michael Baisden and many, many others will be launching a national campaign to encourage everyone in our communities to both register to vote and to educate ourselves about how avoid the new pitfalls and traps that have been put in place to get us from voting.

Let’s talk about the state of Voting Rights today:

First, let us recognize the obvious.  Our voting rights are under attack because we had a great break through—the election of a black president.  It was followed by a great backlash—represented by not all, but definitely by the worst and most racist elements in the tea party. And now we are reaping what those seeds of hate have sewn—the greatest rollback of voter access and voting rights since 1896.

Right now, our vote is being attacked in many ways.  In the state of North Carolina alone we have beaten back attempts to limit early voting, bar Pre-18 registration, and eliminate same day registration.   However, there are three big strategies to strangle our voting power of which each of us must be aware:

Attack  One: Voter ID

In 47 states Voter ID bills have been introduced.  We and our allies have beaten them back in more than a dozen states, but they are now law in 30 states.

These bills, which have been compared to poll taxes, are a viciously effective way to disqualify voters.  In Wisconsin alone, fully half of Black adults and half of Latino adults are ineligible to vote right now because they do not have a current state-issued ID.  Simply put, people who are too poor to own a car, tend not to have a diver license.  Thus, it will have a similar impact on students and financially struggling people of all colors.

Attack two: Registration ID

In Georgia and Arizona, they have passed laws that require every voter registration form to have attached to it a copy of the individual’s driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport.  If you form arrives without one of these, it will not be processed, they will not be added to the rolls, and the voter will NOT even be notified that they were not added until they show up at the polls and are informed they cannot vote.

Already almost 40,000 voters have been kept off the rolls in Arizona alone but the inconvenience and expense will flat-tire many voter registration efforts before they start.  Kansas is set to start this practice in 2013.

Attack Three: Ex-felon Disenfranchisement

In Florida this year, the Republican governor promoted and signed a new order that requires a 5-7 year mandatory waiting period before a formerly incarcerated person’s voting rights can be restored.  This effectively undoes the good that Republican Governors Bush and Crist did when they restored ex-felons voting rights a decade ago.  This new law will literally disqualify more than 500,000 voters, including more than 250,000 black voters.

These laws currently exist to one degree or the other in most of our states.

While Voter ID and Registration ID are like Jim Crow,

Ex-felon voting bans literally are Jim Crow.  Indeed, they are among the first Jim Crow statutes ever created and yet they are still alive and well today.

To be clear, the legislative records actually show that many states banned formerly incarcerated people from voting for the expressed purpose of shrinking the black voting base. As one Virginia delegate put it at the time, “This plan will eliminate the darkie as a political factor in this state in less than five years.”

In short what motivated them to do it way back then, is the same thing that appears to have motivated the Governor of Florida to do it a few months ago: shrinking the electorate in a way that disproportionately eliminates blacks and other voters of color.

When we attack ex-felon voting bans—as we have done so effectively through the courts in states like Pennsylvania and through the legislature in states like Tennessee-- we are attacking one of the last existing legal pillars of Jim Crow.

When we fight to block and undo voter ID and barriers to voter registration we are fighting to stop Jim Crow Jr. Either war we must bring to that fight all of the force of all of our soldiers on the field today as well as the ancestral vengeance of all who have gone before.   We must fight them hard and fight to win.  And we must put the world on notice at the UN… because a century and a half of Jim Crow anything is a century and a half too long.

If the NAACP stands for anything, it is ending Jim Crow everywhere in all its forms AND strengthening our democracy so that Jim Crowism may never rear its ugly head again.

Yet, just as we must fight hard to keep what we fought for so we must fight equally as hard to hold on to what we have.

Now let’s talk about our families, our men, and our boys…

When it comes to holding on to what we have, there is no greater responsibility than defending our children and restoring our families.

And there is no way, not matter what form your family take, ---

That our children can live in a world in which their hopes and dreams can become their realities unless we admit to ourselves that there is an especially profound crisis of discrimination and hatred directed against black men and boys and commit ourselves to ending it.     

We cannot afford to be numb to the fact that 45 percent of African Americans Males between the ages of 18-24 are on a path to end up chronically unemployed, incarcerated, or dead.

Nor can we ignore that we have more black men in prisons than our nation’s colleges…or that a Black man in America today is five times more likely to be incarcerated than a Black man in South Africa at the height of Apartheid.

And Day by day--- in cities across this country—from California to Texas to Maine to Florida---these statics continue to explode in exponential proportions.

As Thomas Hoyt JR. , Senior Bishop of the C- M- E  Church has said…. “The oft-state axiom that the black male is an endangered species is more true than ever….this crisis affecting black men not only affects black men but it affects black women, the black family, black communities and black churches.”  And I would add to that so too does it undermine our cities, our states, and our nation’s dream of turning its current fate around.  In this new fast and flat global economy, no nation that sacrifices large groups of its children can be first in anything but incarceration… and debt.  

AND as my Grandmother reminded me on that day at her table---- It is not enough to win what we are fighting for, we must also hold on to what we already have! 

The movement to save black men and boys has already begun, and AS Bishop Hoyt observes there are a plethora of church and government programs aimed at this crisis.  And yet somehow it gets worse and worse  year after year.

We at the NAACP will bring to this movement what it most desperately needs:

We will shine a bright light on the under education, discrimination, incarceration, and neglect that are creating this crisis;

We will pursue a focused advocacy strategy to attack the policies and practices that have made this problem the juggernaut that it is;

And we will provide the troops in more than 1200 communities across this country who will build the coalition required to get the job done!

And as we take on take on both the challenge of getting what we are fighting for, and holding on to what we already have, we need not see ourselves as grasshoppers facing Giants---but as Giants capable of securing America’s promise for all her people!

In order to do this, we must continue to do what we have done through the NAACP Youth and College Division for 75 years: Raise our daughters to be lionesses for equality and our sons to be lions for justice!

Let us seek wisdom from the Book of Joshua which calls upon us to raise :

  •  A generation of Courage who challenges injustice.
  • A generation of Change who improves its community
  • A generation of Compassion who fights for the weak and vulnerable
  • A generation of Conviction who is able to repent and do better, and
  • A Generation of Commitment who will grow up to provide for their children and families

In these times--  

--Let us draw from the Wisdom of Leaders like Moses that are still with us --- Like that of Myrlie Evers-Williams and that of Julian Bond.

--Let us continue to support our Joshuas- like Steve Benjamin, Kamala Harris, Alvin Brown, and Stacey Abrams

Let us exude the Courage of Esther—Embodied by our Chairman Roslyn Brock,

And most importantly let us all be like Gideon----An Unlikely hero who led his people out of a mighty crisis. 

---A man who at times even doubted himself but nevertheless kept the faith. 

You see, Gideon faced what many would say was an insurmountable task—yet kept on—despite the odds.

He kept on—even when his Army went from 37,000 thousand men to only 300.

He kept on…. even when the enemy already claimed their victory.

But, as God commands all of us, Gideon Kept the course and did not waver in his strategy.  

Grossly outnumbered, Gideon followed God’s command to place his 300 soldiers around the enemy’s camp.

And Upon Gideon’s order—all the soldiers made a mighty trumpet sound. A sound so loud and so startling--- that it caused the enemy to become so confused that the enemy defeated itself !

And like Gideon--we must sound a mighty alarm

And we must move forward in the face of crisis

And so, I beg to ask the question: Is there a Gideon amongst us this morning?

Is there one who despite the odds will stand up and lead?

Is there one who will not give up when the enemy claims victory is theirs?

Is there one who is willing to go into battle with just a few committed warriors?

Is there one who will stay the course when the going gets tough?

Again I beg to ask the question--are there any Gideons among us today?

Are there any committed to leading our people out of America's crisis and into America's promise?

And so as I take my seat to day--I call upon each of you today, the fabric and the heart of this great association to join me in rising up in this turbulent time.

Let us rise up--like Gideon--in the face of unemployment and foreclosures!

Rise up like Gideon to defeat and turn back the attacks on our rights!

Rise up like Gideon to defeat educational disparities and the resegregation of our schools!

Rise up like Gideon to defeat the increasing health disparities and rampart pollution in our communities

Rise up like Gideon to defeat our nation’s broken criminal justice system!

Rise up like Gideon to defeat the crisis plaguing our black men and boys!

And when we rise up like Gideon, our 102-year legacy of turning bold dreams into big victories has taught us that it will never be a question of if we win the battle, but when we win the war, so join me today--


Rise up from  California to New York

Rise up from Michigan to South Carolina

Rise up from Washington State to Mississippi

From Alaska to Florida


Rise up--until Justice Rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream!


Thank you and God bless the NAACP!