Mar 23, 2011

Ravi Perry
 
 

WORCESTER, Mass. — The NAACP's newly revived Worcester chapter elected a 28-year-old openly gay black man as its president this month. In New Jersey, a branch of the organization outside Atlantic City chose a Honduran immigrant to lead it last year. And in Mississippi, the Jackson State University chapter recently turned to a 30-something white man.

Founded more than a century ago to promote black equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is seeing remarkable diversity in its leadership ranks — the result of an aggressive effort over the past four or five years to boost NAACP membership and broaden the civil rights organization's agenda to confront prejudice in its many forms.

"This is the new NAACP," said Clark University political science professor Ravi Perry, the new chapter president in Worcester. "This is a human rights organization, and we have an obligation to fight discrimination at all levels."

NAACP branches have been recruiting gays, immigrants and young people who grew up in a world far removed from the landmark 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling that outlawed school segregation. Now, leadership positions that were once held only by blacks are being filled by members of other racial or ethnic groups.

The group does not keep track of numbers, but in recent years NAACP chapters in New Jersey, Connecticut and Georgia have elected Hispanics as president. A white man was picked to lead the chapter in Aiken, S.C. And two years ago, NAACP members in Hamtramck, Mich., a Detroit suburb, selected a Bangladeshi American to revive their long-dormant chapter.

"Some people mentioned that it wouldn't be possible for me to be president," said Victor Diaz, 32, a Dominican American who ran against an incumbent and was elected president of the Waterbury, Conn., branch in November. "But when I ran, I won 3 to 1."

The push for diversity troubles some members of the NAACP's old guard, who worry that problems in the black community may get short shrift. But some social scientists say the new diversity is merely a return to the group's roots as a biracial organization.

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