The NAACP on Friday dismissed Cornell William Brooks, hired three years ago with the promise of re-vitalizing the century-old organization.
Calling it the "first day of our next 100 years,” the NAACP national board voted not to renew Brooks’ contract when his term ends in June.
In a statement released Friday out of Miami, the organization called for a “transformational, systemwide refresh and strategic re-envisioning” in the age of Donald Trump.
The move comes at a time when organizations like Black Lives Matter are playing a more active, vocal and aggressive role in fighting back against Trump and the rise of the political right on key issues like voting rights and the pending reformation of the criminal justice system.
Earlier this month, the Rev. William Barber, perhaps the most prominent face of the NAACP, announced that he was stepping down as the state of North Carolina president with five months left in his term to the launch of a national Poor People’s Campaign.
"We will refresh our leadership and our priorities,” the organization’s statement read. “It is clear that we must find new ways to confront head-on the many challenges presented by today's uncertain political, media and social climate. . . .
“When you have been doing the same thing for 100 years, you cannot expect continued impact — we need to change our vision in order to be the nimble and innovative civil rights organization that our nation needs today.”
Richard Rose, president of the Atlanta Branch of the NAACP for three years, said he was not surprised by Brooks’ dismissal, although he wasn’t advocating for it, either.
“This organization is 108 years old,” Rose said. “There are a lot of things we have done well and a lot of things that we have not done well. Times have changed, and we have to incorporate a lot of different things to move forward.”
Although their tenures ran parallel, Rose said he never really knew Brooks, “so I don’t know what kind of president he was.”
“Clearly, he didn’t have a civil rights background and that was a challenge,” Rose said. “But it has to be more than one person doing this. He needed a team around him. I am not sure about the board’s process of choosing leaders, but that has to be addressed. And if nationals really want to step up the organization, they have to do a better job of supporting leaders on the ground.”
Brooks, an attorney, was hired to lead the NAACP in 2014. He previously served as president of the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and executive director of the Fair Housing Council of Greater Washington.
He inherited an organization in the midst off a tremendous budget shortfall that had just laid off workers before his arrival.
As the NAACP’s leader, Brooks became a regular face in the news on racial and political issues and is credited with increasing the organization’s online and social media presence.
He was also a vocal critic of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and was arrested in January for staging a sit-out outside of the then Alabama senator’s Mobile office.
Brooks and the NAACP was opposed to the nomination of the conservative Sessions because of his opposition to the Voting Rights Act.
Earlier this month, Sessions announced a new policy that would toughen the rules on prosecuting drug crimes. The plan would roll back some of President Barack Obama’s efforts to make drug sentencing laws more flexible.
In the meantime, the organization’s chairman Leon W. Russell and vice chairman Derrick Johnson, will handle the day to day operations of the group, while a nationwide search begins for a new leader.
"Our organization has been at the forefront of America, making tremendous strides over the last hundred years," Russell said. “However, modern day civil rights issues facing the NAACP, like education reform, voting rights and access to affordable health care, still persist and demand our continued action."
The board also announced Friday that for the first time in the organization’s 108-year history, they will embark on a listening tour to allow the organization to re-imagine itself “in the likeliness of the people whom it serves.”
"These changing times require us to be vigilant and agile, but we have never been more committed or ready for the challenges ahead. We know that our hundreds of thousands of members and supporters expect a strong and resilient NAACP moving forward,” Russell said.
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