You know you’ve grown older (not “old,” just “older”) when you are older than the President of the United States.
For the last 15 years, the Resident-in-Chief at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has been junior in age to me: Bill Clinton by one year; George W. (for Worst in history) Bush, by two years. And the next President is all but certain to be much, much younger than I am. I have made peace with that reality.
But now, the Executive Director of the NAACP, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization is not just younger than me, he’s in fact the same age as my daughter! That’s an entire generation gap.
When I met Benjamin Jealous a decade ago when he was Executive Director of the National Newspaper Publishers Association–the Black Press of America–he behaved like a man who was wise beyond his years. I had no idea he was a neophyte.
By then he had already been Editor of the Jackson Advocate newspaper in Jackson, Miss., and I just figured he’d been around the block a time or two more than he actually had. I confess, I had been an Editor-in-Chief–of Muhammad Speaks newspaper–at age 28, so I’m not complaining about his youth. I am proud to say, “I knew him when…” and I wish him every success.
But like U.S. Presidents, I’m accustomed to my NAACP leaders being older than myself. It all has to do with when that great socialization period took place: junior high school and high school, when boys (and girls) grow into manhood (and womanhood), when so many important values are formed, with the very music that was on the juke boxes in your neighborhood when that coming of age came about.
I first came to know my first NAACP chief, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Hooks, when I was at Muhammad Speaks, and when he was the first Black member of the Federal Communications Commission, appointed by President Richard Nixon. In an interview, Dr. Hooks told me he always kept copies of Muhammad Speaks in his office waiting room so that everyone who came in could see that his eyes were open to a variety of opinions and perspectives. And what a preacher, he was and is. I so admire him.
I made the acquaintance of a couple of other NAACP leaders. The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, the leader of the so-called “Wilmington 10” I came to know quite well. He later became Benjamin Muhammad, a Nation of Islam Minister after his important role in the success of the Million Man March.
I also was well acquainted with Kweisi Mfume, from his time as an outspoken member and leader of the Congressional Black Caucus. But those men, and recently past Executive Director Bruce Gordon, were all older (by only a year or so) than myself, and so I could easily give them their “homeboy” propers.
But here comes Ben Jealous, the age of my own offspring, the youngest NAACP Executive in the group’s history, and I am still able to give him his due. It makes me realize I have earned the gray hairs in my beard, and that, alas, I am now older, and not that he’s so young, although he’s young.
So, come on with it Ben Jealous! Without wings I always believed I could fly. But now, I get to see this young man, a Columbia University and Oxford University alumnus poised to really soar to heights of which I dared never to even dream.
I guess thanks are owed on this occasion to Julian Bond, the NAACP Board Chairman, who is also just a couple of years older than I am, but who in his own youthful appearance, and progressive outlook has always seemed to me to be young at heart.
Congratulations NAACP Board for making a bet on our people’s future, by placing your organization in the hands of a brilliant and energetic and capable young man, Benjamin Jealous.