Kweisi Mfume, former president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), addressed the College community about civil rights in the United States as part of the College’s Multicultural Lecture Series and in conjunction with Black History Month.
Mfume identified various problems associated with race relations in government and society, and called upon students to reason, to think and to act on these issues now. He also reminded students that as the nation’s future leaders they will face challenges both new and inherited.
“The bulk will fall on you,” he said to students, “it’s in your hands.”
Mfume believes that the consequences of the government’s current policy of ignoring the deficit and spending superfluously will fall on the shoulders of our generation, economically and socially. One example of such copious spending cited by Mfume is our continued presence in Iraq.
“Our government should be less concerned with building the economy in Iraq and more concerned with building the economy of America,” he said.
He noted that poverty levels are unacceptably high, there are huge racial gaps in earning and health care and public education is under attack. Additionally, less than seven percent of elected officials in the country are blacks or Latinos, a political shortcoming according to Mfume.
“The haves have more and the have-nots have nothing at all,” he said. To change this, however, all affected people must take action today, Mfume said.
“(Dr. Martin Luther) King said ‘tomorrow is today,'” Mfume said. “Now is the time and today is in fact the day to recommit ourselves to sharing the dream.”
Mfume believes the government must not only concern itself with minority job creation, but that its goals should be more widespread, encompassing social programs for the welfare of the entire community. “We should challenge the president and the members of the House and Senate to stand with us on the issues of today,” Mfume said.
Mfume added that it’s understandable for African-Americans to take issue with community-specific problems – disease disproportionately affecting the race, denial of loans and insurance and song lyrics that degenerate the culture are problems directly associated with the African-American community. African-Americans, however, must realize that it is up to them to define themselves in order to improve conditions within society, he said.
“You ought to say, ‘we have a problem,'” he said. ” Don’t spend all your time blaming white people.”
Mfume encouraged all minorities to form coalitions to deal with pressing social issues. He said minorities should act as a family drawn together by a common need and condition – “a mutual affliction to reason and think.”
In an effort to expedite this type of reform, Mfume, during his term as NAACP president, created a six-point action agenda focusing on civil rights, political empowerment, educational excellence, economic development and youth outreach. The association continues to uphold his plan.
When asked about President Bush’s refusal to speak at the NAACP’s annual convention for the fourth straight year, Mfume said that this has led to increased animosity between the Bush administration and the black community.
“He’s the first president since Herbert Hoover to cut off all communication with the NAACP,” Mfume said.
The president did, however, meet with Mfume once for a one-on-one conversation. They discussed religion, the economy and social security. Mfume said that he hopes that this conversation can be built upon to re-establish good relations between the Bush administration and the NAACP.
Mfume served as a member of Congress from 1986 until 1996, when he became president and CEO for the NAACP. He retired from the position on Jan. 1 of this year.