If you are unfamiliar with Derrick Johnson, that ends today.
The man at the helm of the NAACP is not only brilliant, charismatic, and driven by a sense of purpose, but he is a man who understands institutional history. And it is exactly that knowledge – the history of the century-old civil rights advocacy organization he now leads – that inspired him to revitalize the mission of the NAACP.
7|X had the privilege of attending a conversation with Mr. Johnson hosted by ICON MANN at CAA’s offices in Beverly Hills, CA. The talk was an opportunity for Mr. Johnson to share his change agenda with a community of young, up-and-coming leaders and influencers in the Los Angeles area.
Mr. Johnson’s rap sheet is as impressive as it is long, but he is quick to downplay his tenure in the game. “That’s because I’m a young man! Only 36 years old…” he intoned to the audience – and if you couldn’t see him you just might think he was serious. But implicit in the light-hearted joke was its profound undertone – youthfulness and a deep connection to our younger generations is the foundation of Derrick Johnson’s work.
“We have over 2,000 local NAACP units across the country, so when Ferguson happened we didn’t have to send anyone there. And when everybody left? We were still there doing the work.”
Our leading institutions often struggle to align with the views of youth culture, and far too often young people are asked to support an agenda that is not relevant to them. Mr. Johnson recognizes that. “We need to start by understanding our young people and doing the work alongside one another.”
This narrative was eloquently delivered, but there was an air of healthy skepticism in the audience which manifested itself in the form of difficult questions. “You all [the NAACP] fell off,” jabbed a member of the audience. “We all know you fell off, but what is your team doing to change that?”.
“Let me stop you right there,” Mr. Johnson responded. “How many of you have heard of Color of Change? Go look it up, we have more followers [on social media] than them. Our reach is substantial. We have over 2,000 local NAACP units across the country, so when Ferguson happened we didn’t have to send anyone there. And when everybody left? We were still there doing the work.”
His tone was less combative than it was confident and proud. The collective achievements of the NAACP are too many to name, but Mr. Johnson recognizes the organization still has much to accomplish. He hopes to compose the Association’s next chapter with the collective efforts of young people engaging in the 2018 midterm elections in November.
“Candidates don’t fail people, people fail candidates.”
Mr. Johnson recounted several of the most important midterm elections in the last decade and emphasized how important these elections are in the overall political landscape of the country. He implored the room to get involved. “Candidates don’t fail people, people fail candidates,” Mr. Johnson quipped.
He’s suggesting that people too often focus their energy on the individual personalities of those running for office rather than seeing candidates as conduits for driving political agendas to serve communities. “We need to understand the issues that are important to us and advocate for candidates we believe are best positioned to drive these issues across the finish line.”
A year into his post, Derrick Johnson has articulated a clear vision for where and how he hopes to push the NAACP forward. Now it’s a matter of doing the work under the current administration – the community building, the educating, the organizing, the legislative lobbying – which Johnson assures is only a matter of time under his leadership. As he says, “I’m here now,” affirming that the NAACP is poised to tackle the challenge.
ICON MANN™, founded by Tamara Houston, is a media and heritage development enterprise, cultivating a global network of prominent black men committed to positively transforming the dialogue and imaging of black men. You can learn more about their work here and follow them on social media.