NAACP President’s Homecoming
National NAACP director Ben Jealous returns to his alma mater.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
NAACP President Ben Jealous stands at the front of the York School chapel on Sept. 11, talking to some 200 teenagers, any of whom could have been Jealous 20 years ago.
“You look pretty much like we did,” he tells kids, who probably have a tough time imaging the man behind the podium sitting in their classrooms. He adds, “When I was a kid, we were burning bras, burning flags. These days, kids watch TV and they play Nintendo.”
Jealous, 35, is the youngest president in the history of the NAACP, and he’s Monterey County’s only Rhodes Scholar. At 13, as a York student, Jealous joined the NAACP. A year later he helped organize a voter registration drive.
Later that day, he’ll talk about the future of civil rights in America to a sold-out crowd. But this afternoon, he’s hanging out with the teens, talking politics– he’s an Obama supporter. “This election is the most important one you will face in your lifetime. We need you to be involved. We need you to make sure your parents turn out to vote.”
He also answers questions about working as a community organizer. As a Columbia University student he joined the crew team, and rode the subway through Harlem to get to crew practice.
“I saw very, very poor people,” he says, “people who looked just like me but were living in a completely different reality. It seemed decadent to continue to go to crew practice.”
So he quit rowing and volunteered for the Harlem Restoration Project, a tenants’ advocacy group. Its members provided free childcare and restored buildings. Volunteering taught him something about being a leader. “When you are plastering and painting the inside of someone’s apartment,” he says, “you spend a lot of time listening.”