Sunday, October 19, 2008

President Myles' speech to the 88th Anniversary Legacy Awards Banquet Oct 18th, 2008

Pictured L to R are Wichita Branch NAACP Presidents Charles McAfee (1997-1999), Curtis McClinton (1947-1948), K Myles (2002-present), Rev. DD Miller (1972-1979), and Youth President Amani Myles (2007-present)

It is my unique honor and privilege to stand before you today and speak on the history and the legacy of the NAACP. This is a very rich subject and one not entirely unfamiliar to most, but it remains even still a work in progress. In just a few short months, the NAACP will celebrate its 100th anniversary. A full Century of Civil Rights activism and leadership. And during these 100 years, the NAACP has been far MORE than an outside group of agitators or merely a special-interest group or association.

The NAACP is and had been an integral part of the development of this Nation, of our systems of Jurisprudence, of our notions of Fundamental Fairness, and our dreams of what is possible.

No other organization in our Nations history has been as influential in setting the moral compass of our society. No other organization in our history has been such a powerful determining factor in molding the legal and social parameters of community. The NAACP as the Vanguard of the American Civil Rights movement, was the catalyst for some of the most pivotal moments in our Nation’s history.

But it is clear as we survey the landscape, as we look out upon our society and more critically at that state of the African American Family and community, that while we have made tremendous strides, we still have a monumental journey ahead of us.

The paradox of our successes and failures as a community could hardly be better illustrated than during a year wherein we may see our Nation elect its first African American President (Barack Obama), - and yet, during this same year, a National Education report was released showing a drop out crisis nearing 50%

And at a time when our nation has benefited from the Intellectual gifts and abilities of a long list of Black luminaries (Bunch, Banneker, Woodson, Washington, Parks, Lewis, Young and others) – The very Public Schools that bear their names are re-segregating all across this nation and National data shows an Achievement Gap that had begun to narrow is beginning to widen once more…

At a time when we may see an African American reach the Pinnacle of Political Success – too many in our community have developed a dependence on Government that has left far too many of us paralyzed in poverty.

And yet, even when I look out at the myriad of problems that we face, and battles yet to fight, I am still comforted by the continuing efforts of the NAACP. I know that if America has ever produced an organization with the capacity, the passion and the willpower to effectively address and right these wrongs, That Organization is none other than the NAACP, that will is to be found in the spirits of folks like these who are gathered here tonight, and the battles shall be won by those who follow the example and in the tradition of folks like the Men and Women we have come here tonight to honor.

The NAACP has endured for 100 years; to do so is a testament to its fidelity to its purpose, and at the same time it is a clear indication of its willingness and ability to adapt to changing times and changing needs.

So know that Ladies and Gentlemen despite our up’s and down’s and despite the realities of all that lay before us, I am in no way disheartened by what I see, in fact, I came here to give you the Good news. That no matter how clich√© it has become… We really are the people that we’ve been waiting for...

Because standing and working together, Black and White, the people who overcame Slavery, who overcame, Jim Crow, Who overcame the Black Codes, Who Overcame lynching, Who overcame the Poll tax, Who overcame Separate but Equal, Who overcame oppression, who overcame discrimination… having overcome all of this… Certainly we can overcome the Achievement Gap; we Can overcome our dysfunctions, and we can rebuild… our communities and our families.

It certainly won’t be easy; nothing worthwhile ever is, but we’ve been through darker days before…

In 1918, an Anti-Lynching Bill was brought before the Congress. It read in part:
That the district court of the judicial district wherein a person is put to death by a mob or riotous assemblage shall have jurisdiction to try and punish, in accordance with the laws of the State where the homicide is committed, those who participate therein:

This bill passed the House of Representatives… and the following year… It was defeated in the Senate. These were truly dark days… And this was the time and era in which the Wichita Branch NAACP was formed. During this time of clear inequities and persistent hardships, two brothers came to the city of Wichita inspired to make change.

Now to be sure, there was a ‘momentum’ building all across the Nation; change was coming. Just ten years prior, in response to a devastating Race Riot in Wilmington North Carolina, members of the Niagara Movement joined by members of the Women’s suffrage movement and others, came together and formed the NAACP – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The NAACP was founded on February 12, 1909 by a diverse group composed of W. E. B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Archibald Grimk√©, Henry Moskowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villard, and William English Walling.

The Organization’s first Charter read: To promote equality of rights and to eradicate caste or race prejudice among the citizens of the United States; to advance the interest of colored citizens; to secure for them impartial suffrage; and to increase their opportunities for securing justice in the courts, education for the children, employment according to their ability and complete equality before law.

Already by 1919, at the formation of the Wichita Branch, and just 10 years since its founding - The fledgling NAACP had organized opposition to President Woodrow Wilson's introduction of racial segregation into the federal government

By 1914, the NAACP had fought successfully to secure the right of African Americans to serve as officers in World War I. Six hundred African-American officers were commissioned and 700,000 men registered for the draft.

The following year the NAACP organized a its first nationwide protest, with marches in numerous cities, against D.W. Griffith's silent film Birth of a Nation, a film that glamorized the Ku Klux Klan.

In 1915, the NAACP intervened in the challenge of Guinn v. Harris which struck down the discriminatory grandfather clauses in Oklahoma that disfranchised most black citizens while exempting many whites from certain voter registration requirements.

In 1917 the NAACP persuaded the Supreme Court of the United States to rule in the Gerrymandering case Buchanan v. Warley, that states and local governments could not officially segregate African Americans into separate residential districts.

By 1918 Membership had grown to over 70,000 and the NAACP was fast becoming internationally known for its advocacy of equal rights.

In 1919, this NAACP movement came to Wichita – Two brothers HT and HF Sims came forward ready and willing to make a difference. These were the Great Uncles of Mrs. Gloria McAfee. They were the Owners, Editors and Publishers of the Negro Star Newspaper in Mississippi. And one day, in response to an article they'd written describing the plight of Negro soldiers returning home from the first World War, a mob of Klansmen burned down their building. The Sims brothers packed up their belongings and moved west to Wichita. Their passion and their activism was in no way diminished as HF Sims, went on to become the first African American to serve on the Board of USD259, while his brother, the Rev. HT Sims went on to found the Wichita/Kansas Branch NAACP. The Sims brothers exemplified the type of Dual focus that was responsible for our remarkable success.

The chartering members included people like Helen McAfee, Arthur DeGraftenread, and FC West who was the Principal of L’Oveture, names and families who have remained involved in community service since that day forward.

The Wichita Branch fought battles for Public Accommodations and fair housing under the leadership of its early Presidents such as Atty John Madden and GG Brown (Father of Dr. Val Brown, who's here with us this evening)

In 1923 the Wichita Branch organized to protest the showing of the film “Birth of a Nation” here in the city.

In 1931 the Wichita Branch held it’s first Mass meeting at Calvary Baptist Church – which now houses the Kansas African American Museum, calling upon all concerned citizens of the city of Wichita to come together to deal with the problems affecting african Americans in housing, education, and employment.

In 1933, under the leadership of A. Price Woodard Sr. (Father of A Price Woodard Jr., Wichita's first African American Mayor) the Wichita Branch formed it’s Jr. division, recognizing the need to develop leadership and character in the next generation of our would-be leaders. So to my friends in the CCSR and Sedgwick County, I'd like to note for the record that the Wichita Branch NAACP has been doing succession planning since 1933!

In November of 1948, Under the leadership of Mr. Curtis McClinton (who is here with us this evening), the Branch held a Mass meeting which asked the question “What shall we do about Segregated Schools in Kansas?”

In 1956, under the leadership of Chester Lewis (who's daughters Brenda and Michelle are here with us this evening) the NAACP held a city wide meeting entitled: Wichita Problems in practical democracy: Employment, Housing, and Public Accomodations.

In 1958, the NAACP Youth Council staged the Dockum Sit-in which desegregated the entire Rexall Drug Store chain and was the first successful student-led sit-in of the Civil Rights movement.

Chet Lewis went on to file suit against USD259 charging them with a continuing pattern of Racial Discrimination, thus leading to the Districts desegregation program.

President DD Miller (who's here with us tonight) led protests against Excessive force by Law Enforcement and racial profiling issues as early as 1973 and 1974

President Chaney fought for fair employment practices in the Aircraft industry

In 1994, under the Leadership of James Crump, the Wichita Branch launched a boycott of local business who refeused to honor the Martin Luther King Holiday and he served on the Steering committee which guided the implemenation of the Counties Weed and Seed program.

President McAfee fought City-wide for improved minority contracting opportunities

President Wanda McDaniels led efforts to look for missing child Jacquilla Scales, and to eliminate the use of “Time-Out Boxes” in our schools.

Make no mistake.. the NAACP has made it’s mark on the City of Wichita…

Now I know there are naysayers who hearing all of this will argue that the best days of our organization are behind us. I know there are those who say that all that we have accomplished still won’t address the complex issues of today. I know there are those who feel that the NAACP has simply outlived it’s usefulness and has nothing more to contribute to this new society. And I know that many may feel that the issues we now face with Crime and drugs, teen violence and the acheivement gap, are issues that the NAACP does not or will not deal with.

But to all of them I say NO... The NAACP has survived for 100 years because it has been willing to adapt to meet the needs of the community.

The our first 40 years were focused on protest: bringing awareness to conditions that affected African Americans.

The next 30 years saw us focusing legislative advocacy – writing and crafting new laws to address the shortcomings of our society.

The next 20 years saw us focusing on enforcement – working to get the system to enforce the laws now on the books.

And now our new challenge is before us: and it is a challenge to reconnect our community with the opportunities that now exist.

In many respects, we’ve won the fight for Equal Opportunity; now we must shift the battle to fight for equal access: Ensuring access to pathways of success and encouraging our community to take the necessary steps to achieve more… That means continuing to fight to ensure that the pathways remain open on the one hand – But it ALSO means educating our community about the opportunitites that now exist.

For 100 years the NAACP has made very legitimate demands upon society – But Today the time has come that we must now demand more of ourselves.

The problems we face in our current situation are not insurmountable.

I know we can face down the achievement gap, because we’ve faced down so many challenges before. In fact since our founding moments and the dual focus of the Sims brothers, and since Chester Lewis led his landmark battle against segregation in USD259, we’ve maintained those relationships with the District. – Sometimes rocky, sometimes smooth – but through our efforts and continued engagement – while the Nation is experiencing a widening of the Achievement Gap, here in Wichita our Gap is closing…

I KNOW we can deal with the issues of unemployment and the need for more business and entrepreneurship because we have a proud record and broad shoulders to stand on on employment issues. Since the bold employment battles of Presidents like Crump, Cheney, McAfee and soldiers like Mary Dean who fought to bring fair employment practices to the Aircraft Industry, and even preceding them in the efforts of Presidents DD Miller and Howard Hunt who fought against discrimination city-wide and demanded better employment opportunities; we’ve maintained our relationships with the Public and Private sectors.

Our contracting and employment efforts have directly resulted in the formation of the City of Wichita’s Minority Contracting Task Force which has begun the process of unbundling large construction contracts, creating more opportunities for small business owners to bid and succeed and spending more than 84 million additional dollars with small and minority firms over the last 5 years alone.

I KNOW we can deal with the issues of Parental Involvement in the Schools because we’ve been a central and integral part of this community for 90 years. Our NAACP community education efforts led to the creation of the Parent-to-Parent support group, which links parents and administration and teaches parents how to be effective advocates for their children.

I KNOW we can plant the seeds of a new community, because we took a handful of neighborhood kids, and encouraged what was best in them: We promoted their intellect and their abilities and developed our Youth Chess Team and our brand new Youth Debate Team – Kids please stand up and be recognized.

These ladies and gentelmen, are the seeds of change. Working together, ordinary people of good will can accomplish extraordinary things. That is the History of this great organization and it is the mantra and force that propels us forwards.

But to truly be successful as we wage the coming battles. We need your assistance. Ladies and Gentlemen I would ask that if you are not a member of the NAACP if you would make it a point tonight, to become a member. Outside this ballroom there is a table staffed by our volunteers who are ready to take your membership. This is your opportunity to become a part of the Biggest, Baddest, oldest, boldest, most loved, most hated, most feared, most revered, most cussed, and most discussed Civil rights Organization in our nation's history.

And as I close Ladies and Gentlemen, I want to leave you with this quote from our Founder WEB DuBois. With regard to facing down the challenges of today Dr. DuBois said:

“ Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest .”

Thank you Ladies and Gentlemen for your continuing support of this great organization. My name is Kevin Myles, and I approve this message…

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