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Houston NAACP election becomes increasingly contentious

November 15, 2018

The fight over the leadership of the Houston chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People grew even more acrimonious Wednesday, the eve of the 100-year-old organization’s officer elections.

On Wednesday afternoon, the branch held a press conference to address the deepening divide within the group. As some members — exclusively under the age of 40 — in support of the branch’s current leadership took to the podium inside the organization’s Wheeler Avenue headquarters, others — including those vying for officer positions — had the front door shoved shut in their faces.

Three challengers, all of whom are in their thirties and have been branch members for one to two years, are seeking to replace longtime members as top officers of the branch. They say the chapter has become out of touch, that they want to make it more relevant by prioritizing the black community’s economic health and have thrown claims of corruption within the branch.

“I find it (abhorrent) that while (they) would seek to lead an organization and move forward the agenda of civil rights for people of color in this country and city, that (they) would also seek to put a cloud over the very house through which we choose to work,” said first vice president Dallas Jones, 38.

Challengers Lloyd Ford, Ciara Suesberry and Eddison Titus have raised questions about the incumbent leaders’ handling of finances, and whether the group is welcoming and inclusive of new ideas. But longtime members say the newcomers have raised “unsubstantiated” corruption claims, want to take the organization in the wrong direction and are too inexperienced within the organization to lead.

“When people of color in this country were trying to smell their way to opportunity, the NAACP was its bloodhound. But when you don’t feed your dog, it will be skinny, it will be frail and no one will fear it,” Jones said. “The question I would ask of those who seek to put a cloud around this house is, have you fed your dog lately?”

Before the start of the press conference, Executive Director Yolanda Smith pushed the side of her body against the front door to keep out members who were trying to enter the building. When a young woman inside began videotaping the incident on her smartphone, Smith grabbed the phone from her hands and told her to exit the building while the woman repeatedly asked for her property. Afterwards, Carolyn Shabazz, the group’s secretary, told members that the event was a private press conference.

The result was dueling press conferences. The three challengers stood on the sidewalk in front of the fenced-in headquarters, surrounded by about a dozen supporters and two constables, talking about their experience and commitment.

“This is not about experience. It’s not about age either,” said Titus, who’s running for first vice president. “It’s about one major thing, and that’s corruption.”

The candidates started their impromptu conference saying the divide the branch is painting is inaccurate. But they could not finish without onlookers interrupting them about their platforms and evidence of their corruption claims. Soon, shouting matches erupted between members,

Titus admitted the divide did indeed exist as people continued arguing behind him. But, he said, he is OK with it.

“People have a tendency to get stuck in their ways, and whatever change comes it’s a natural tendency to push against it. At the end of the day, we can reconcile,” he said. “It’s less, ‘Do we have the same ideologies?’ and more, ‘Do we have the same ideas on how to move forward and get there?’”

massarah.mikati@chron.com

@massarahmikati

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