(Updated 9/8/2013) As the world has discovered, Benjamin Todd Jealous is a man of his word, and his word is his bond. Five years ago when he became the youngest President and CEO of the NAACP, he promised to take the Association to a new level of achievements.
He also promised his family that after that was accomplished he would return home and spend time with them. On January 1, 2014, Jealous will have kept both promises as he steps down from his leadership role and heads home.
“I promised my family I would take five years at the NAACP to bring it to a new level and then spend time with them, and though there have been attempts to break that promise, it can’t be done,” Jealous told the Amsterdam News in an exclusive phone interview Sunday afternoon. “That promise to them is important to me, and I intend to honor it.”
So, in effect, Jealous has fulfilled both promises as he prepares to make his transition from the NAACP to possibly teaching, writing, and continuing the community activism that highlights his impressive resume. “The orderly transition is underway,” he said, “and for a few months I may continue in some capacity with the organization as a consultant but I have four books I want to write and to continue to train the next generation of leaders.”
One of those books should detail his successful tenure at the NAACP, a tenure that board members did their best to convince him to stay a little longer. “They wanted to extend my contract for another year, but the organization is in a strong place and they have time now to select a new leader,” Jealous added.
“We thank President Jealous for his time leading the Association,” Board Chairman Roslyn Brock said in a press release. “Under his leadership, the NAACP has built a highly competent staff that will carry our mission forward and meet the civil rights challenges of the 21st century. He really energized the NAACP, particularly our base.” She said the board would begin immediately seeking his replacement.
New York’s NAACP President Hazel Dukes expressed similar praise for Jealous’s tenure at the Association and said “that sometimes family takes precedent, but Ben has done a hell of a job rallying the troops and raising money. He took his job very seriously and it shows in so many productive ways.”
Whoever is chosen to fill his shoes will discover Jealous’s handiwork, narratives he honed in concert with chairwoman Brock, Julian Bond, and a formidable staff, that facilitated his traveling, speaking, organizing, and rallying those ground troops at an exhausting pace of more than 150 days a year. “We’re the largest civil rights organization online, in the field, at the ballot box, and on mobile,” he explained. “During the 2012 election we registered more voters than any other non-political party; online we have 1.3 million email activists; 423,000 mobile activists and 280,000 social media supporters.
“We have been successful in our campaigns to end the death penalty; obtaining early voting rights in every state; we’re winning in our push for sensible restrictions on gun ownership; and we’re winning on the reductions of the prison population and outlawing racial profiling,” Jealous continued. And from a fiscal standpoint, he noted, the Association “has increased its donor base tenfold.”
Primary revenue has increased from $23 million to $36 million, Jealous said. The Association’s accountability and transparency are also exceedingly high.
The Rev. Al Sharpton said he has known Jealous since he was a student leader at Columbia University. “His first arrest was in the [Amadou] Diallo civil disobedience movement…and we worked with him recently in the fight for justice for Trayvon Martin…he has operated with integrity and a real sense of hands-on activism.”
When asked if life begins at 40, which is his age, Jealous said in so many ways it does. “I recall the time I spent with my father when I was very young, and I want to give my children the same opportunity,” he said.
On January 1, 2014 the NAACP stalwart will begin keeping that other promise he made five years ago.