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Published: Tuesday, 6/3/2008

Change agent at the NAACP

THE National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has been feeling every one of its 99 years of age lately.

Running multimillion-dollar deficits and failing to attract the young people it needs to remain viable in the 21st century has severely undermined the organization's historic mission and relevance. In addition, the NAACP has had a recent succession of presidents who didn't stick around for a variety of reasons.

Its 64-member board of directors is composed of veterans of the sit-ins and marches that successfully rolled back Jim Crow a generation ago. Consequently, they have their own ideas about how the NAACP should be run. Their vision has often been at odds with the elected president's.

With the recent election of 35-year-old Benjamin Jealous as president, however, the venerable civil rights organization has another chance to correct its course. A Rhodes Scholar and a former executive director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association/Black Press of America, Mr. Jealous brings organizational skills and a resume of civil rights and community advocacy to the NAACP.

He's also the youngest president in the organization's history, so he will be dealing with the kind of generational challenge his predecessors never imagined.

Initial skepticism of a new leader is healthy but, in the end, Mr. Jealous should be given all the resources he needs to raise the NAACP's profile and re-energize its base. If the NAACP is to survive into its second century, its demographics must change. It needs to form alliances with other progressive groups and reenter the national conversation.

The NAACP needs the kind of energy and dynamism Mr. Jealous promises to bring. To quote from an old Bob Dylan song with which the board members are probably familiar, "Your old road is rapidly aging / Please get out of the new one / if you can't lend a hand / for the times, they are a-changin.'•"

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