NAACP calls for sweeping reforms

By Laura Williams-Tracy

RALEIGH, N.C. — A broad coalition of nonprofits, led by the North Carolina conference of the NAACP, marched to the North Carolina legislative building in Raleigh in February to show support for the groups’ sweeping agenda for lawmakers.

The NAACP’s “Historic Thousands on Jones Street”, dubbed HKonJ, delivered a 14-point plan to address public education, health care, wages for the poor, and racial prejudice in the state.

“You can’t talk about education without talking about healthcare or without talking about a living wage,” says the Rev. William Barber, who is completing his second year of a two-year term as president of the state chapter of the NAACP. “This is a movement, not a moment.”

While the group’s agenda covers vast territory, from abolishing the death penalty to speaking out against the war in Iraq, Barber says the group has put forward action steps designed to give lawmakers clear direction for instituting what the group calls progressive change.

The North Carolina convention of the NAACP has more than 15,000 members.

“We need to move away from incremental change to fundamental change,” says Barber. “We want the full package of 25 to 30 action steps to get filed with the General Assembly and be heard and debated.”

Among the group’s key concerns is public education, including the demand that the state meet its constitutional requirement to provide adequate funding and ensure every child receives a sound, basic education.

Currently, 44 high schools that are poor and predominantly black are failing across the state and too little is being done to help them, says Barber.

The group also is pushing for the legislature to take steps to reduce high-school suspension and dropout rates among black students, expand the state’s child-care subsidy program and expand the federal-state child health insurance program.

It also wants lawmakers to allow same-day voter registration, increase funding and faculty at historically black colleges and universities, and increase appropriations to the state’s Housing Trust Fund.

Racial hiring and contract-discrimination practices within state government also should be reviewed, Barber says, and the group is asking legislators to carry out the recommendations of the state commission created to examine the 1898 Wilmington race riots.

“If we can’t address the moral failings of the past then we don’t have a moral framework for the future,” says Barber.

In its push for these initiatives, the NAACP is backed by more than 60 other nonprofits, including the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, the AFL-CIO, the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, Grassroots Energy Alliance and the NC Council of Churches.

On March 28, the NAACP will hold People of Color Coalition Day at the General Assembly in Raleigh, providing another chance for legislators to hear from the group on the issues.

Barber compares the partnership to the broad coalition of churches, women’s groups, labor and others that helped advance the cause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“This is the same strategy,” says Barber. “It takes multiple organizations to make it happen.”

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