2015 Changemakers: Minneapolis NAACP

Minneapolis NAACP: Standing, back row, (L-R): Cathy Jones (2nd Vice President), Raeisha Williams (Chair, Communications Committee, [appointed]); Helen Bassett (Treasurer); Jason Sole (Chair, Criminal Justice Reform Committee [appointed]); Helen Williams (Asst. Treasurer); Bertha Daniels (Asst. Secretary). Seated, front row, (L-R): Nekima Levy-Pounds, President; Shirlynn LaChapelle (At-Large Member); Natonia Johnson (1st Vice President); Kerry Jo Felder (Secretary) Not pictured: Lissa Jones (At-Large Member); Wintana Melekin (At-Large Member); James Everett (3rd Vice President [Appointed])
Photograph by Sarah Whiting.

“This shows trust, faith and belief in women’s leadership.”

– Nekima Levy-Pounds

Revitalizing a venerable organization takes bulldog determination, says Nekima Levy-Pounds, the new president of the Minneapolis NAACP. That’s exactly the quality the organization’s first all- female elected board of directors has in abundance.

In a special election in May – held because the Minneapolis branch had gone virtually dormant – NAACP members elected Levy-Pounds, first vice president Natonia Johnson, second vice president Cathy Jones, treasurer Helen Bassett, secretary Kerry Jo Felder, assistant treasurer Ashley Oliver and assistant secretary Bertha Daniels.

The women didn’t run together as a slate. Members simply had an excellent group of candidates to choose from and they happened to be women, says Levy-Pounds.

Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization. Yet, Levy-Pounds says, the Minneapolis branch needed the jumpstart it’s now receiving in the form of new thinking and tactics, inspired in large part by frustration over the disparity between whites and African Americans who are statistically below the rest of the population in every key indicator of quality of life.

Levy-Pounds is often called “outspoken” in news reports, a quality that serves her well in her new position and a moniker she wears with pride.

Under her leadership, the Minneapolis branch is taking a fresh approach that combines activism and policy-making. For example, they joined in the protest when a Metro Transit police officer allegedly assaulted an autistic African American youth. The officer was fired. They called attention to the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Reading Horizons program, laden with offensive cultural and racial stereotypes. It was cancelled.

“We’re very pleased with our progress so far,” Levy-Pounds says. Yet, they’ve only begun to tackle an ambitious list of long-term projects, many revolving around reform of the criminal justice system and police-community relations. Those are natural interests for Levy-Pounds, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas.

The organization will also advocate for more resources for black-owned businesses that, if prosperous, will hire more black employees. And, look for an NAACP women’s speaker series focusing on social justice issues unique to women of color.

To tackle these projects, the Minneapolis NAACP has quickly ramped up its roster of volunteers. Levy-Pounds says, “They see our commitment and they’re rolling up their sleeves.”

One of their strategies is to tap the youthful energy of Black Lives Matter, an organization that tackles many of the same issues. “We’re open and excited to work with young activists,” she says. “They’re our boots on the ground, and that balances well with our work on the policy side.”

Levy-Pounds chuckles at the suggestion that with so many women at the top, the Minneapolis NAACP could use a little diversity. She says she did appoint a man, James Everett, to the third vice president post, and there are many male committee chairs.

Yet, she says, the election of the new board is significant because so often leadership of women is under-recognized in communities of color. “This shows trust, faith and belief in women’s leadership.”

Get Involved:
 You don’t need to be African American to join or support the NAACP. For information on programs and how to get involved, see www.naacpmpls.org and on Facebook at NAACPMPLS.