Over the past few years, I sometimes forgot that Lexington has an NAACP chapter.
Nationally, NAACP President Benjamin Jealous is visibly advocating for equality on news talk shows and in newspaper editorials. Because of that, we know the NAACP is still viable.
The state branch has advocated for the automatic restoration of voting rights for ex-felons and holds its annual conference in various cities across Kentucky as a means of staying on our radar.
Locally, though, outside of hosting the annual state conference in 2011, the chapter has been relatively muffled.
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The Rev. Jim Thurman, associate pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church and the new president of the Lexington NAACP chapter, tells me that is about to change.
Thurman and JoJuana Leavell-Greene co-chaired the state convention in Lexington two years ago to re-energize and increase membership. With the change in leadership, the hope is to help folks like me to never forget the organization that our parents and grandparents supported with their money and their time.
"The leadership was getting up in years, and they really wanted some young blood to help out," Thurman said. "I got a call saying we need for members to get active and to get the branch up and moving again."
The former president, Flora Mitchell, had held that office since 1999 and had been a member for 30 years.
Although she decided not to seek another term, she said she was proud of the advocacy organization's work to save the Black and Williams Neighborhood Center and the swimming pool in Douglass Park when both were slated to close, and with the membership's efforts to make registering voters and a get-out-the-vote push a high priority.
"We tried to get people and churches and ministers involved, and sometimes that is like pulling teeth," Mitchell said. "But they are doing a little better.
"And this year, we had a lady who we got registered to vote who was 99," she said. "She hadn't registered for 30 years."
Thurman, who has been the new president for a month, said his priority is to bring the branch back to relevancy. "We will be supporting the other agencies around the city and strengthening our ties with them," he said.
To jump-start the new day, the local chapter is hosting a town hall meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. March 11 at the Charles Young Community Center.
"We will be discussing education, economic development and restoration of voting rights," he said. Plus, there will be information available about the bill to expunge some felony records.
In addition to the meeting, the local chapter has been working with Shambra Mulder, state NAACP education chairwoman, who received a grant to confront the educational achievement gap in early childhood. The parents of children in day-care centers and preschools that feed into William Wells Brown Elementary School will be given access resources and techniques to get their children to grade level or above.
"We have a lot of educators in our group, and I sit on the (Fayette County Public Schools) equity council and listen to all the issues," Leavell-Greene said. "We want to get the parents involved and show them we need to start educating the children at age 3."
Charles Duke, secretary for the local chapter, is proud of the changes he sees so far.
"We're becoming an agency that, when issues come up, the community is looking to see what the NAACP thinks about it," he said. "That's the vision that people had of the NAACP. Instead of flying off the handle, the people can look to the NAACP for guidance and advice."
Thurman said that a growing number of people are working to re-energize the local chapter. His goal is to get the chapter motivated again and to have new leadership ready when his term expires.
"It will take all of the two years I'm president to get us back," he said. "I am grooming my successor. Two years and that is it."
You can lend your hand to the effort. Anyone wanting to join the NAACP should attend a meeting at 6 p.m. at the Black and Williams Center, 498 Georgetown Street, on the second Monday of each month.
It will be good to have that advocacy group back.
IF YOU GO
What: The Lexington chapter of the NAACP will host a town hall meeting to discuss education issues, economic development, restoration of voting rights for ex-felons and the felony expungement bill.
When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. March 11.
Where: Charles Young Community Center, 540 E. Third St.
Information: Call (859) 608-9735.