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NAACP interim president declares no interest in permanent job

21st November 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Hazel Trice Edney
Contributing Writer

( – With increasing buzz about the possibility of a woman becoming the next president/CEO of the NAACP, both the woman in the interim position and the current chairman have declared they have no interest in the permanent job.

“Absolutely, positively, emphatically no,” said Interim President/CEO Lorraine Miller answering whether she is interested in the permanent position. “Doing this now is not something in my career upon my retirement,” she said. She said she was assured it would be brief interim. “That’s why I decided to do this.”

Chairman Roslyn Brock, who is currently leading the search for a successor for outgoing President Ben Jealous, has declared her non-interest with equal fervor.

“I have no interest in the position of president/CEO of the NAACP. The chairman of the NAACP national board of directors is and has always been the highest position in the NAACP. The National Board of Directors of the NAACP hires the president/CEO to be the chief spokesperson and public face of the organization,” Brock responded in an email.

As the organization continues its national search this week, Miller – known widely as a trailblazer – says she sees her role as a delicate balancing act of sorts.

“I have a vision of my own, some things that I want to do,” said Miller, who served as the first African-American clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives. “Part of what I believe I’ve got to do is figure out a balance between trying to be a placeholder and trying to be a change agent because a new person coming in has the right to shape the organization as they see fit. So, I don’t need to break down any barriers.”

Miller is accustomed to holding her own. The Fort Worth, Texas native rose to the historic position of clerk of the House after serving U.S. Rep. Jim Wright, (D-Texas); in the Clinton administration, Congressman John Lewis, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) who named Miller clerk of the House in 2007, a position she held until 2011 when the GOP took control of the House.

As a life-long NAACP activist, Miller has an equal balance of civil rights in her blood. She was elected as president of the D. C. Chapter of the NAACP in 2004 and joined the national board in 2008.

“The NAACP knows the direction it’s going in. What I hope to do is assure that our programs are being aligned with the strategic plan that our board and our branches have agreed to,” she said, ticking off a few of her focuses as interim president:
• Economic development: “We have got to make sure that jobs, training, education are available – not only to our 1,200 branches, but to the people that we consider ourselves working for.”
• Health Care: “The reason we are in this fight is because 40 million Americans does not have health care…There are so many health problems in our community that we’ve just got to take a stand and get people involved in trying to improve their quality of life so that the emergency in the hospital is not the first item of choice for people that can be preventative.”
• Youth and college: “For us to sustain this 104-year-old organization, we’ve got to have an aggressive, active, motivated youth movement,” she said.
• Voting rights.

Although she will not have a vote on the next president/CEO, Miller describes what she would be looking for: “Someone who has a vision of where civil rights should be going; someone who feels compassionate about it. One of our mainstays is making sure there is unfettered access to the ballot box,” she said. “Someone who is passionate about that, who has a vision for civil rights and a little experience at managing a large organization, would be the kind of candidate I’d look for.”

As the first woman to serve in the salaried office of interim or permanent president/CEO of the NAACP, Miller believes gender does matter.

“As a woman, I think women have an unusual power and finesse that men just don’t have. It’s like the velvet glove,” she says. “You can get done what you want to get done when you don’t have to be disagreeable about it. And I think that is a characteristic of a woman in leadership.”

On the flip side, having observed Speaker Pelosi for four years, Miller also described the inner strength, resolve and leadership that a woman can exude amidst controversy. “She had a big stiletto that she didn’t mind using.”

Actually, Miller was first confronted with the idea of serving as NAACP president during a conversation with the now late Dr. Dorothy Height. As new House clerk in 2007, she visited Dr. Height at her National Council of Negro Women Headquarters and she recalls Dr. Height repeatedly insisting, “‘You need to do the NAACP.’ I hadn’t thought of that,” she said.

In the wake of Jealous’ resignation, she said Brock asked her to take the interim presidency after she’d sent an email offering, “If there is anything I can do to be of help during this transition, just let me know.”

She continued, “When they initially approached me about it, I hedged and said that’s not where my head is; that’s not where my career is right now. And I said no. And then Roslyn said, Lorraine, just think about it, pray about it. We need you. This is a short period.”

But it was not words that convinced her to take the interim job. It was simply history, she described. She recalled the harrowing scenes documented in the civil rights museum in Memphis that she’d visited about two years ago.

Recalling the “high powered water hoses that were pressing people against the walls,” and the suffering of so many people, she recalled saying to herself, “This is what people went through for us to have the right to vote…I have to do this.”

As Miller assumes leadership, she expects there is already a long line for the job. When people approach her, she refers them to the National Headquarters, telling them to contact Search Committee Chair Rev. Theresa A. Dear.

“I don’t think there’s been a time table set. They’re organizing now and getting a search done. I think they’re looking for the right person. They’ve got, I think, a lot of people that are interested. But, it’s about getting the person that can build upon what Ben has left us.”

Miller says she is planning to return to the board once someone is hired. Yet, she is enjoying her day job as a real estate developer and quietly longs for the farmland of her home town of Fort Worth.

“I’m going back to my real estate role. What I’m really passionate about doing is bringing retail into underserved communities,” she said. Miller is currently working on an economic develop project in South East DC and is trying to bring a shopping center into her Fort Worth neighborhood.

Ultimately, she said she will enjoy the leisure of retirement back home in Forth Worth, “go down to our little family farm and deal with the cows and shuck some corn and chase a pig or two.”

Meanwhile, civil rights duty calls. “If I could be of help to the association that I love for an interim period to make sure that we maintain the strength of our organization, take what Ben has given us and build upon that, that is a calling I couldn’t refuse.”

This article originally published in the November 18, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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