On Oct. 21, the executive committee of the NAACP National Board of Directors announced that the Detroit-born Johnson would lead the organization as the president and CEO. Johnson formerly served as vice chairman of the NAACP National Board of Directors and the state president of the Mississippi State Conference of the NAACP.
The future of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is “inextricably linked to the future of African Americans and its incumbent upon the nation’s oldest civil rights organization to work with the Black Press to get that message out,” said new NAACP President Derrick Johnson.
Board members said Johnson was selected to guide the organization through a period of reinvigoration and realignment with the current challenges of today’s civil rights movement.
To accomplish that mission, Johnson said the NAACP will lean heavily on the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), the trade association that represents more than 200 African American-owned newspapers and media companies across the country.
“We must be successful to ensure that democracy works for all and that individuals of African descent are treated with dignity and afforded equal protection under the law,” Johnson told the NNPA Newswire. “We’ve met with (new NNPA Chairman) Dorothy Leavell and (NNPA President and CEO) Benjamin Chavis Jr., and we see a bright future and we are mutually tied to the same reality, because the NNPA is critical, as the delivery source of information for our community.”
The fact that the NAACP chose Johnson to lead the organization was music to Leavell’s ears.
“I believe he is the right leader for the NAACP at this most important time in our history,” she said. “The NNPA looks forward to working with him and the NAACP.”
Chavis, a former executive director of the NAACP, said he’s known Johnson for a long time and he’s confident that Johnson’s leadership expertise and experience will take the NAACP to greater heights in terms of membership and civil rights activism.
“If there was ever a person alive that personifies the living spirit of Medgar Evers, it is Derrick Johnson. Thus, the NAACP will grow and expand under the leadership of Derrick Johnson,” Chavis said. “Johnson personifies the courage and genius of a freedom fighter, who will now lead the NAACP forward with fearless boldness.”
For his part, Johnson, who received a Juris Doctorate from the South Texas College of Law, called the Black Press an under-appreciated institution.
“It’s incumbent upon the NAACP to work directly with the NNPA to make sure that, as we get control of our narrative, we’re utilizing our most important tool, which is the Black Press,” Johnson said.
A veteran activist, Johnson, 49, said it’s also important that the NAACP engage and support young people.
“We urge the young ones to keep studying and continue advocating to make sure their voices are not suffocated, because of a lack of knowledge,” Johnson said. “I’m encouraged by the number of young people who have taken to the streets with the tools at their disposal to become more active. If they find that the NAACP is a tool they’d like to use, then it is incumbent upon the NAACP to support their ability to do that, because the young activists of today will be our leaders of tomorrow.”
A regular guest lecturer at Harvard Law School and an adjunct professor at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., Johnson previously furthered his training through fellowships with the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation.
As president of the NAACP Mississippi State Conference, he led critical campaigns for voting rights and equitable education, NAACP officials said in a news release.
Johnson also successfully managed two bond referendum campaigns in Jackson, which brought $150 million in school building improvements and $65 million toward the construction of a new convention center.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Johnson founded One Voice, Inc., to improve the quality of life for African Americans through civic engagement, training, and initiatives, according to Johnson’s bio on the NAACP’s website. One Voice has spawned an annual Black Leadership Summit and the Mississippi Black Leadership Institute, a nine-month training program for community leaders.
“I really appreciate the support of the chair of the Board of Directors, who invested confidence in me to do this job,” Johnson said. “I think we have to control our narrative and tell our story because we have units across the country that have been extremely effective in their work, but we haven’t been able to control the narrative.”
Johnson called controlling that narrative both a challenge and an opportunity.
He said the NAACP is working diligently toward the 2018 midterm elections and making sure to tackle voter registration and issues that have worked to deny African Americans the right to cast a ballot.
“We have to figure out how to maximize the engagement of folks in our community to exercise their right to vote,” Johnson said. “We have a fertile and vibrant pipeline for young people to have a stronger voice in what’s taking place and, at the same time, we can support young people already out there advocating with the understanding that social justice is not a competition, but an opportunity for many individuals to add their voice for progressive change.”