Civil engagement is arguably one of the most important duties a citizenry has. It is how people (in particular, women and people of color) in this country have secured constitutional rights not always afforded to everyone. For people like Jessica Franks, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) has played a very important role in civil engagement and social justice for more than a century.
“It is the oldest organization to take a stand for all equality within our communities,” she notes of NAACP’s centennial year, 2019. “We have always been one of the forces to push to help folks get to the polls to exercise their rights to vote, get new voters registered, and even educate many on voting.”
Franks’ journey with the NAACP began in middle school. It was during the Wilmington chapter’s summer program “Sankofa” when she decided to join the local youth council. Now she’s the president of the Wilmington NAACP Youth Council and Juvenile Justice chair for the NC NAACP Youth & College Division.
“The reason I became a part of the organization is to help be an advocate for youth,” she explains, “as well as to bring youth together to learn more about themselves and become knowledgeable about what their ancestors had to go through for us to be and have the luxuries we have today.”
While the NAACP was founded in 1909, the New Hanover County NAACP started in 1919. Franks, along with NHC NAACP president Deborah Dicks Maxwell and former president Earl Sheridan, is part of a panel for the upcoming 100th anniversary event at Cape Fear Museum on February 2.
Aside from talking about how NAACP serves ILM by working to end racial hatred and discrimination for past 100 years, Maxwell (an NAACP member for 20 years) hopes to delve deeper into the organization’s broader roles in the past, present and future, part of which comes from empowerment and educational programs.
“We are generally misunderstood by many but our organization benefits all,” she tells. “[NAACP] was founded by a diverse group of people—blacks, whites, males, females, Jewish and Christian.”
And the foundation of it has strengthened throughout the years, according to Franks. “It has grown in numbers, as well as has continued the fight for equality just as our ancestors did . . . I’m hoping to be able to remember all the challenges we have overcome as not only an organization but a community. I’m also hoping many [attendees] learn something new they are able to take back to their families to share with the youth. I am a strong believer in sharing our history with our youth because, as my grandmothers have always told me, you don’t know where you are going until you learn what we have been through as a community.”
Take for instance the founding of the Cape Fear Museum, originally overseen by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1898. Though the museum’s management, collections and mission have changed since the county took over operations in the 1970s. That the museum hosts broader cultural events celebrating Black History Month is a sign times have changed.
“The museum has sought to expand and improve our interpretation of African-American stories in our community,” details Sheryl Kingery Mays, museum director. “Providing a way to learn more about the role of the NAACP in the community—a role that’s often been hidden in traditional historical sources—fits well with our mission.”
Some programs and collaborations from last year include the Support the Port coloring contest; Southern Griots program, featuring poetry, music and dance; working with the MLK 50th anniversary committee; collaborating with the Williston Alumni Association to recognize the 50th anniversary of the closing of Williston Senior High School; and exploring the violent events of 1898 on the 120th anniversary of the coup d’etat last November.
“We have a lot of events coming up during the month of February [in honor of Black History Month],” Kingery continues.
Cape Fear Museum will celebrate Black History Month on their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, too, by sharing stories and images of African-American women of Wilmington and sharing photos by local African-American photographer Herbert Elijah Howard. For more information, visit www.capefearmuseum.com/programs.
NHC NAACP also plans to participate in the Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HKONJ) on February 9. Led by the People’s Assembly Coalition, which is made up of 125 NC NAACP branches and countless youth councils and college chapters from across the state, they also began the Moral Monday protests in 2013. “This is the 12th year and has been the largest civil rights march in the South outside of Selma,” Maxwell notes. NHC NAACP is offering group transport to Raleigh for $20 and will meet at the Steinmart in the Hanover Shopping Center at 6:30 a.m.