(Updated 5/26/2017) Cornell William Brooks is not leaving the NAACP quietly.
Brooks, 56, who serves as the NAACP’s President and CEO, was notified last week by the organization’s 64-member board that he will not continue as the NAACP’s President and CEO when his contract expires on June 30. As a result of the board’s action, Brooks will on that date move on from the nation’s oldest civil rights group.
He led the NAACP for three years. Brooks said his ouster caught him by surprise, and that NAACP leaders said the organization needed a “systemwide refresh.”
“It’s been soul-testing and character-building,” Brooks told the AFRO in an interview this week. “I’ve never been through anything like this before, but we will survive.”
During the past three years, Brooks said, he helped make the NAACP relevant again.
Brooks said he brought the NAACP into the 21st century by developing a successful social media strategy. He also claimed that memberships and donations have increased significantly over the past three years; that the NAACP had at least 10 victories in voter suppression court cases across the country; and that the group resisted racial profiling laws and repeatedly addressed criminal justice reform.
“We worked with Black Lives Matter; we registered 1,000 young people to vote in Chicago,” Brooks said. “We were committed to being responsibly radical and unapologetically pushing for legislative reform while bringing young people on board. And we partnered with Yale Law School [Brooks’ alma mater]—that wasn’t happening three years ago. Donors said they liked the direction of the NAACP.”
Apparently, the NAACP’s leadership didn’t.
NAACP Board Chairman Leon W. Russell and Vice Chair Derrick Johnson will lead the organization until a new president is selected.
“We understand and appreciate the historic model of protest, but at this point in time we believe as an organization we need to retool to become better advocates, better at educating the public, better at involving them in our operation,” Russell told reporters. “Modern-day civil rights issues facing the NAACP, like education reform, voting rights and access to affordable health care, still persist and demand our continued action.”
Some civil rights advocates said Brooks’ corporate style for modernizing the NAACP didn’t sit well with board members, some of whom wanted a more radical approach—and a more dynamic leader—to confront the Trump administration’s troublesome social policies.
Brooks, however, maintained that he was all about action.
His tenure at the NAACP coincided with the riots in Ferguson, Miss. after Michael Brown was shot and killed by a White police officer. Also during his stint, the Flint water crisis was exposed, the New York police-related death of Eric Garner dominated media coverage, and voter suppression cases required immediate legal attention. Brooks himself was arrested in January for leading a sit-in at the Alabama office of then-Sen. Jeff Sessions opposing his confirmation as U.S. Attorney General.
“We did the work,” Brooks insisted. “We marched from Selma to Washington, D.C.—1,002 miles—and we had to walk an extra 200 miles out of our way because police said we would be ambushed by the KKK. Our people sacrificed and faced death threats while protesters were throwing old liquor bottles, watermelons and fried chicken boxes at us.”
Brooks, a minister originally from Georgetown, S.C., appeared puzzled and disappointed by his dismissal, but said he’s not bitter.
“I’m incredibly proud of the people doing the work at the NAACP and the young people who have come on board,” Brooks said. “I don’t know what my next job will be, but I do know I plan to stand with people who have been working their hearts out for social justice with duct tape and shoe strings.”