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Advocating for more equitable educational opportunities for D.C. children is at the forefront of an organizational agenda unveiled Jan. 24 by new officers of the D.C. chapter of the NAACP.
The local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People shared its plan of action for the next two years – from helping small D.C. businesses to pushing for D.C. voting rights to advising the school board to promoting affordable health care – during a press conference at which its new president, Lorraine Miller, senior adviser to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, also was introduced.
“There is no bigger issue that the District faces than the children of D.C.,” Miller said while surrounded by some of the chapter’s executive committee members.
For five years, the national organization studied education in the United States, releasing its findings in a pamphlet entitled “A Call to Education.” The NAACP’s local leadership said they are answering that call.
Miller noted a distinct disparity between actual funding – the total from government and private sources – provided to D.C. public schools located east of the Anacostia River and those west of the river.
The chapter’s leaders said they plan to become more involved in efforts to increase funding for schools with large numbers of students from low-income families. And for the first time, the chapter wants to advise school officials on how to operate more cost-efficiently.
“The District spends an enormous amount of money housing kids who are expelled from school....The question is whether or not it is really helping them by expelling them,” Miller said.
Gerard Charles, youth adviser for the chapter, said many of the chapter’s 200 youth members are dismayed with how the District has handled educational and other programs for younger residents.
“We’re very disappointed,” Charles said. “We’re disappointed that the schools are in horrible conditions, that the Oak Hill Detention Center is in a horrible condition....What confuses me is that we can put up all these beautiful homes in D.C. but we can’t fix a bathroom in public schools. I’m not anti-Mayor Williams, but I’m disturbed that he hasn’t come forward and addressed this.”
The chapter also plans to expand its efforts to increase D.C. voter registration and to lobby for voting rights in Congress for D.C. residents.
“A voting right for D.C. is a civil right.... [D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes] Norton has done an excellent job in bringing issues to the forefront, but a great deal has still been missed,” Miller said.
In past years, the chapter has taken an active role in helping small businesses by working in partnership with the Howard University School of Business and the D.C. Office of Business Development. This year, the chapter plans to develop and distribute a black business directory in local communities in order to stimulate small business patronage.
“We have to be concerned with the ability of the dollar being used in our community,” Miller said.
The chapter also assists residents who wish to apply for small business loans by offering 10 business seminars. One member of the lcoal chapter said race often serves as an obstacle for many residents who apply for a loan.
“When I go to apply for a loan and when a white person goes to apply for a loan, the loan rates are very different,” said Louise Langley, the chapter’s office manager. For many, it is a case of financial ethnic profiling, she said.
Though the chapter has many ambitions, Miller said they are wary of striving for too much.
“We’re trying not to over-promise....It’s a two-year process,” she said.
But during that time, the chapter will make itself available to the public. Regular meetings will be open to D.C. residents so that they can “sound-off” and share their opinions, Miller said.
The chapter also announced it will kick off a membership drive on Feb. 2 in tribute to Betty Holton Humphrey, the local chapter’s first woman president, who died last November. Humphrey remained active in the organization until her death, serving as first vice president and chairman of the Finance Committee.
In addition to Miller, the other members of the chapter’s executive committee who will serve through 2005 are the Rev. Morris L. Shearin, first vice president; E. Ned Sloan, second vice president; Patricia Hampton, third vice president; Ruby Lewis, secretary; Theresa Johnson, treasurer; and the rev. Vernon Shannon, chaplain.
Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator