Hazel N. Dukes

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President • New York State Conference, NAACP • New York, N.Y.

Hazel N. Dukes has been president of the New York State Conference of the National Ass-ociation for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the country’s oldest civil rights organizations, for 16 years, but she has been at the forefront of the struggle for human and civil rights far longer. As an advocate, she devotes her energies to giving voice to the injustices suffered by those who cannot speak for themselves. “I try to bring to that which speaks to us as humans, not what is racist. If I have to, I can ‘throw down,’ but I try to maintain a balance, to leave a door to come back again to the situation,” she says.

Among the more than 200 awards and accolades Dukes has received, there are a few that stand out most, she says. One of them is an award from the International Council of Catholic Churches and the American Jewish Congress, which, says Dukes, shows that she brought people of all kinds together in the context of the American dream. “I think my abilities rest in my negotiating skills—how to bring people together, to mediate confrontations and to try to create solutions to situations. Most importantly, this is not easy because winning is not often, but it allows for discussion,” she says.

The second notable award is the honorary doctorate she received from Queens College of the City University of New York. “When I was nominated by a trustee of the college, for this award, it was the highest honor to be recognized by a someone who had watched my career from when I worked in Nassau Long Island,” Dukes says.

Dukes contends that nothing can substitute for family and parents, who provide a foundation of love and caring. Parents and friends alike told her that she could achieve her dreams and she believed them, she says. “Respect is a real key for African-Americans. A person has to respect himself or herself and if it is not given, it should be demanded. If a person has a skill, master it,” she says.

Her goal now is to ensure that those following her would not just be good, but better than she has been. “My immediate and long-term goals are to spend my time with young people and religious organizations to improve education, as technology is the wave of the future,” Dukes says.