Civic participation is key to affect social and political change. And the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, Inc. (NCBP), a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 1976, is dedicated to increasing civic engagement and voter participation in Black and underserved communities. Under the leadership of Melanie L. Campbell, president and CEO of NCBCP, the organization is currently focusing on the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington.
The organization has decided to organize a celebration on the March on Washington anniversary. “First and foremost, it is important for us to organize a celebration for the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington to lift up and honor our own history and to remember our predecessors who were lynched, hosed, beaten and jailed while fighting for justice,” explains Campbell, who holds a B.A. in Business Administration and Finance from Clark Atlanta University and was a resident fellow at the John F. Kennedy School of Government’s Institute of Politics at Harvard University in 2003.
“Also, by celebrating this pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, we have the ability to teach our young people our history. This is very important right now because a lot of young people are very disconnected with social justice issues and are not tuned in to some of the tricks that were played--are still being played-- to limit opportunities for people of color and young people. Once a person gains an understanding of our history, they recognize game when it comes regardless of the package it comes in. For instance, they will recognize things like voter ID laws for exactly what they are, modern day Poll Taxes,” she adds.
According to Campbell, it is vital to recognize historic events such as the March on Washington. “It is especially important to remember the March on Washington and the work of the civil rights movement in these times. You would think we’d be tap-dancing with the election of President Obama and the recent Census Report confirming that Black people outvoted whites for the first time in recorded history,” explains Campbell. “However, because of minimal gains made by people of color, those who don’t want to share their power or money are plotting and planning ways to suppress our rights.”
The current state of affairs in America, says Campbell, is a glaring example of why such organizations such as NCBCP are necessary. “Some folks want to say we’re living in a post-racial America so they can start reversing some of the laws we fought so hard to get passed. Affirmative Action is under attack and just last month in the Shelby vs. Holder decision the U. S. Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 making it nearly impossible for the U. S. Justice Department to do its job to protect our voting rights in over 15 states and jurisdictions. Most are southern states that have historically discriminated against African Americans and other minorities having their voting rights protected,” she says.
Campbell says it is obvious that work still needs to be done to have equality for all. “I don’t believe that in a post-racial America, Black people would have an unemployment rate almost twice that of whites, or that the amount of Blacks living in poverty would be triple that of whites. And clearly, in a post-racial America any man that hunts down and kills a teenager returning home from buying tea and candy would go straight to jail,” she points out. “We need to commemorate the March on Washington to stimulate a new movement for jobs, freedom and social justice.”
Beyond the March on Washington anniversary, NCBCP has other goals. “Our goals this year and beyond at The National Coalition are to help reduce health disparities in Black communities by partnering with Enroll America to increase healthcare enrollment of Black women and young people 18 – 26 nationally. We will organize grassroots public awareness and outreach campaigns to promote health care enrollment opportunities provided by the Affordable Care Act,” says Campbell.
NCBCP will also host Black Women’s Roundtable (BWR) regional trainings to increase sustainability of local BWR Networks including resource development, leadership development and capacity building. “The goal is to help local and regional BWR Networks develop tools that will strengthen the base and lead to long-term sustainability; elevating impact of local advocacy, mentoring and civic engagement efforts led by local BWR Network members,” explains Campbell.
According to Campbell, many people overlook the economic connection to civic participation in inner city communities. “The current economic crisis disproportionately impacts people of color. Key to The National Coalition’s overall strategy is to build capacity of grassroots organizations within our constituencies to hold elected officials accountable,” she explains. “At this stage, our continued involvement in mobilizing underserved communities to exercise their civic responsibility to determine the level and quality of representation their communities will have is absolutely necessary to ensure our goal for all Americans to participate in a barrier-free democratic process and be afforded economic opportunities to live a higher quality of life.”
While Campbell says there is much work ahead for NCBP, she is rewarded by her work. “I enjoy everything that I do but if I had to pick one thing I would say building coalitions and getting our leaders to work together in unity because that’s the most effective way to leverage our power as a group,” she explains. “The National Coalition is committed to strengthening the voices, issues and collective power of Black women and young Black men to lead and organize their communities in removing racial, systemic, political and environmental barriers to living healthier, wealthier and wiser lives for themselves, their families and communities.”