With its 75th-anniversary celebration now in the rear-view mirror, the Arlington branch of the NAACP is working to raise its visibility in the community and focus on issues of importance to its constituency.
“There are a lot of things we need to be doing that we’re not doing,” said Julius Spain Sr., the organization’s first vice president, during a Dec. 20 installation ceremony held at Walter Reed Community Center.
“We need to work on membership; we have a way to go. [And] really get out in Arlington, talk about what we’ve done,” Spain said. “We’ve been more reactive than proactive.”
At the event, Karen Nightengale was confirmed for a new term as president, a role she has filled the past two years. Nightengale said her focus would be on ramping up the Arlington NAACP’s committee structure and making sure members have a voice about issues of concern.
“We’re trying to get better about informing everybody,” Nightengale said. “We have something for everybody.”
(The organization has set up a hotline – 877-592-6452 – and is updating its Web site at www.arlingtonnaacp.com.)
The Arlington branch of the NAACP traces its roots to 1941, when most of community life in Virginia was segregated and Virginia was more a sleepy Southern town than the “urban village” of today.
Installing the new and returning officers was Commonwealth’s Attorney Theo Stamos, an NAACP member, who last performed the duty five years ago.
“It was an honor then and it’s an honor today,” Stamos said. “It’s a venerable and wonderful institution.”
In addition to Nightengale and Spain, other NAACP officers for 2017 include Kent Carter (second vice president), William White (treasurer) and Keshia Tensley (secretary). Carter and Tensley are new to their positions.
The election of Donald Trump and his resulting slew of Cabinet nominees had some in the room worried. Carter read an e-mail from the national NAACP leader voicing fears over Attorney General-designate Jeff Sessions, while others voiced more general concerns.
“Things aren’t going to be like they used to be for the next four years – we’re going to feel a lot of punches,” said former Arlington NAACP president Elmer Lowe Sr.
Nightengale said the Arlington chapter would monitor national issues and weigh in with elected officials as appropriate. That was a tack supported by Phillip Thompson, president of the Loudoun NAACP and regional chair of the state NAACP for much of Northern Virginia.
Local branches are “where all the work is done,” Thompson said of grass-roots advocacy.
Thompson said his goal was to “bring all our chapters together and make things happen.”
Brenda Cox, a longtime NAACP member, said the Arlington chapter needed to “make a concerted effort” to partner with the county’s religious community.
“The churches were instrumental to social justice,” she said. “We need to go back . . . to what our forefathers did.”