11/13/05 — Barber sets course for state NAACP

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Barber sets course for state NAACP

By Renee Carey
Published in News on November 13, 2005 2:00 AM

The Rev. Dr. William Barber II said he didn't decide to run for the position of state president of the NAACP for glory.

In fact, he prayed about the decision with his family and consulted with his parish at Greenleaf Christian Church before submitting his candidacy.

So, when the vote came back in his favor, the pastor was not surprised -- or in celebration mode.

He was humbled.

"The moment we heard, we prayed," he said. "We prayed for strength, wisdom and grace."

And, he remembered his father.

The son of the late Rev. Dr. William and Eleanor Barber is no stranger to the civil rights movement. He grew up there, he said.

"I came from a family that has a deep Christian and justice background," Barber, 42, said. "I was taught that there was no way to be an evangelical Christian without a deep sense of justice."

Both his parents were active in the NAACP when he was a child and were instrumental in integrating schools in North Carolina.

And he was born two days after the march on Washington, D.C., in 1963.

"The joke was that I decided to wait to see what would happen at the march," Barber said.

When he got ready to go to college, Barber said his father gathered family and friends together. He stood his son up in front of them and told him: "You are going for all of us. You owe." Barber said he has never forgotten his father's admonition.

Barber earned a bachelor's degree in public administration from North Carolina Central University and then earned his Master of Divinity degree from Duke University's School of Divinity. He earned his doctorate from Drew University in Madison, N.J.

His studies have centered on theology and ethics, "how to apply what we believe," he said.

And that will be part of his focus as he leads the NAACP into a new direction. Not a change to the fundamental tenets of the organization, but a reminder of its roots, its focus and its intention.

He wants to take the organization back to the people. His campaign for the state presidency centered on the future.

"An election is supposed to be a time when we have a vigorous debate about the direction of an organization, not about personalities," he said.

And that is the direction he took, Barber said, lauding the service of those who came before him, including the man he beat, former president, Melvin "Skip" Alston.

He said, however, it was time for a change.

"The NAACP is not a place where we have banquets and rub shoulders with VIPs," he said. "We are a justice organization."

Barber said his administration will welcome people of all races in that fight for justice, adding that the multi-racial aspect of his vision of the NAACP is historic.

"When the NAACP was born, it was a group of scholars, black and white, grassroots members and philanthropists, all in pursuit of justice," he said.

Barber said his leadership plan for the NAACP will focus on values, vehicle and vision. The goal will be to get more people, especially the next generation, interested and active in the traditions and the legacy of the NAACP. Equal opportunity, equal access and equal protection under the law will be the platform on which he and his leadership committee will stand, he added.

"Civil rights are not just black folks issues," he said. "They are all of our issues."

And he understands the weight of the office and the power of the legacy of the fight for equal rights.

"You stand on the shoulders of people like Medgar Evers, A. Philip Randolph, Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King," he said.

But even though he knows he will lead the state organization, Barber said he wants the NAACP to be "of the people, by the people and for the people."

"The civil rights community can no longer afford the one person personality approach," he said. "Vision must be given away."

He will empower local chapter presidents and the memberships to be the leaders in their own communities and to bring new members into the fold.

And he is calling on his own flock to assist as well.

"Our church understands that this is not just a calling for me, but for the church as well," Barber said.

That means long hours for everyone as Barber begins to put together a new leadership team for the organization and takes his message around the state.

Also by his side will be his wife, Rebecca, and their five children, Andrew, 4; Sharrelle, 20; William III, 14; Benjamin Joe, 9; and Rebekah Eleanor, 11.

He said part of the reason he has taken the job of president is help build the country he wants to leave for his own children, whom he calls his most precious gifts and his most important responsibility.

"Sometimes it is saddening that 42 years after the march on Washington, we are still seeing crosses burned, seeing (lower) wages for women. We are still seeing minorities with the same education receiving lower pay. We are seeing the gap between the poor and the wealthy increasing. We are still struggling for equal opportunity."

Reaching young people and encouraging them to join the fight for equality for all, and challenging families of all races to step up to the responsibilities of creating a better country, are the foundation for changing that future, Barber said.

"We have a family crisis in America," he said. "The NAACP has always stood for personal and public responsibility. It has never been either/or."

He's sees the NAACP as an important catalyst for change both in the public and private sectors.

"The role of the NAACP is to be the conscience of the community, to stop these issues from being turned aside," he said. "We intend to hold this state accountable to what we have said about North Carolina. It is not just about skyscrapers and suites. It should be a North Carolina for all the people."

And he wants the next generation to be held accountable, too. He wants young people to know that they stand on the shoulders of the people who sacrificed before them.

"We cannot afford to have social amnesia," Barber said. "We need to remember the greats and the unsung heroes like my grandmother who had a fourth-grade education, but who never gave up the idea of her children having something better."

Preserving that legacy of accountability, responsibility and service will be his most important job, and one he plans to attack with energy and determination, Barber said.

"I am not a person who believes in seeing a problem and having 15 meetings about it," he said. "Let's stop talking about what needs to be done, and let's do it."