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Rochelle and Spearman vie to be next N.C. NAACP President


Editor’s note: During the upcoming 74th Annual N.C. NAACP Convention in Raleigh, current president, Bishop Dr. William Barber will be stepping down after 12 years, and a new president will be elected between Rev. Dr. Portia Rochelle, president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP Chapter, and Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, Third Vice President of the N.C. NAACP.

During separate interviews, both candidates were asked the same six questions about their respective visions for the state conference if either is elected to lead. For a final question, they were asked to determine what they want rank-and-file N.C. NAACP members to further know about them that they feel is relevant.

When necessary, both candidates’ answers have been truncated for conciseness.

Rev. Dr. Portia Rochelle Rev. Dr. Portia Rochelle
Rev. Dr. Portia Rochelle

She celebrated her 65th birthday on Sept. 5th, but as far as Rev. Dr. Portia Rochelle, president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP is concerned, she has plenty of fire and commitment in her to lead the over one hundred branches of the N.C. NAACP as it’s next president, if elected. And she’s working hard to make that happen. Having served as branch president for the past nine years, and having worked for North Carolina state government for the previous 30, Rev. Rochelle says she’s fully prepared to lead North Carolina’s most prominent civil rights organization. A widow since 1993, Rev. Rochelle has two children.

Why should you be elected as the next president to lead the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP?

“Because of the firsthand experience that I have had in working with the branch here in Wake County. We’ve had to tackle numerous issues, and we are at the forefront of most issues that occur here in North Carolina, whether we desire to be or not. The general public calls on us, and that has given me a vast amount of experience as far as working through civil rights issues with the community, and the people injustices are being done to. I’ve had nine years of experience, and I feel that I can do it on the state level.”

What do you think of Bishop Dr. William Barber’s leadership of the N.C. NAACP over the past 12 years, and, if elected, how do you intend to build on it?

“He’s set a great example. Bishop Barber is a teacher. He is one that has a vision, makes sure that you understand that vision, makes sure that you understand that vision and your place, your role and your value in making the vision come forth. So I believe that whoever succeeds …follows that role model, will do great.

“Some people are kind of shy as far as doing what they should be doing at the branch level, and I think that if we keep that model that he has set, to teach others, to let them know that they’re valuable in the movement, that they’re necessary in the movement…we need key players in the movement. Everyone needs to be able to help a justice movement. Bishop Barber has set a good example of that, and I plan to build on that, build on the infrastructure. There are some branches that need more training, they don’t always have the opportunity to come to the state convention or attend the national. But I’ve been fortunate enough to be exposed to all of the training at all of the levels.

“Plus, quality time with Dr. Barber, with him teaching me and him answering all sorts of questions that I had when I first started. So the next successor has to be patient, and be willing to teach those that are prepared to lead this organization.”

As N.C. NAACP president, how will you continue the fight for voting rights?

“We should never stop. It’s been a continuous fight and does get frustrating for the citizens we are working with, but in the movement we cannot get tired, we cannot get frustrated. We must continue to encourage our people to not keep silent and to not stay home and get mad because they don’t like the way elections are finished.

“If you’re mad, fight back. How do you fight back? Become informed voters. Teach your family, your neighbors, how to become informed voters. Know what you’re voting on, know the issues, know the people that we’re voting for, know what they stand for. Don’t just wait and show up on voting days for someone to give you a list, and you go in and mark those names. Know who’s running. Know what they have to say about issues that are affecting your life.

“So voter education is what I’ll be concentrating on. Teaching our people to learn …you know, it’s more than just marking a ballot.”

How will you work to get more young people involved in the N.C. NAACP?

“That’s a good question, because I’m dealing with that now. Many of the young people are raising families, many of them are feeling that the NAACP is irrelevant. So we have to constantly teach them the history, and how the NAACP is relevant to them.”

“Some say we’re outdated, we’re not functioning, but they don’t know what we’re doing. They need to take time to get to know us. Let us introduce ourselves to you, so you’ll know what we’re about, how we got started and what we’re doing. We’re doing more than marching and protesting because we don’t like a particular law. That’s very important to do, but you have to fight back by showing up at meetings, and know what’s going in your community.

“I plan to do a social justice school to teach people how to be involved in the social justice issues in your community. I plan to do the same thing with churches. We need to have people in place where community meetings are going on – the school board, Board of Elections, county commissioners. All of these things affect our lives, and if we’re not there to give our input, then we’re going to be left out. And it’s going to be too late, so we have to get involved. That’s what I want to teach the millennials – you have to get involved. You can’t just sit back and pass judgment, and say that our rules are too stringent, or we take too long to do something. You’ve got to understand when we don’t just run and jump and do something. You’ve got to learn not to just jump out there and be ignorant. You have to investigate, then see if you need to make a stand, see if you need to make a statement. And you’ve got to learn how to be patient. Learn the importance of strategy, and why that strategy is there to protect you and the community.”

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman
Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman

Rev. Dr. T. Anthony Spearman, Third Vice President of the N.C. NAACP; senior pastor of St. Phillip AME Zion Church in Greensboro; and president of the NC Council of Churches, has been a member of the NAACP for 53 years. As a young man, his father got memberships and told Spearman and his sisters to keep them up because “you will be fighting for justice for the remainder of your years.”

During that time, Rev. Spearman, 66, has also served as chairman of the N.C. NAACP Religious Affairs Committee, and president of the Hickory Branch of the NAACP.

Now he says it’s time to vie for the presidency of the civil rights organization he’s given most of his life to, and lead it towards further establishing the values and justice he’s sworn to uphold. Rev. Spearman is married with three adult children, five grandchildren and one great grandchild.

Why should you be elected as the next president to lead the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP?

“I find the NAACP continues to be a very relevant organization in which I’m glad I have cast my energy towards. I have been a staunch supporter of the Forward Together/Moral Monday movement, and the second arrestee of the Moral Monday. I’ve been involved in civil disobedience on three separate occasions. And so I’m very invested in the N.C. NAACP and the work thereof, and I’ve seen a great deal of merit in the work of Dr. William J. Barber II, and want to see this movement continue that has been started over the course of the 12 years that he served in leadership.”

What do you think of Bishop Dr. William Barber’s leadership of the N.C. NAACP over the past 12 years, and, if elected, how do you intend to build on it?

“I’ve been very much a part of Bishop Barber’s leadership during that time, and it began with the HK on J Movement... I was there at the inception of that, and then as it kind of grew into the Forward Together/Moral Monday Movement, I was very much a part of that movement. Candidly, Dr. Barber and I have become very collegial, and have really held one another up in many of the things that have come before us as the twelve years have unfolded.

“My ideology is very, very similar to the ideology of Bishop Barber, and what the NAACP lifts up as what they call “game-changers,” I lift up as a five-point justice vision. When we talk about pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that ensure economic sustainability, and educational equality that ensures that every child receives an appropriate education, and health care, and fairness in the criminal justice system, and protection of all kinds of rights – voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights…all of those are right at the cutting edge of the things I would think we need to continue in terms of having the kind of ideology that’s going to help us to make some ground so that we can continue to move forward together and not take one step back.”

As N.C. NAACP president, how will you continue the fight for voting rights?

“One of the things that have been in the forefront of my mind is how to frame doing what I hope to achieve once I’m elected, should I be elected. I’ve been kind of obsessed with the thought of what I call a transforming and understanding of “R.I.P.” which is the acronym we generally use for “rest in peace.””

“I’m plagued with why do we wait until someone dies to say or think that we want them now to rest in peace. So I’ve been toying with the idea of how do we transform our understanding of R.I.P., and help to translate it from a death wish to a justice gift.

“Three of the points that I am very, very bent on achieving or working on as we do the work come forth with the acronym R.I.P. :

  1. Respecting our vote –everything we face as a people is predicated on the right to place ballots in the ballot box. Like watchmen on the wall, we have to continue to be vigilant and make sure that we hold back all that the [NC] General Assembly seeks to do to continue to suppress our vote. And I genuinely believe that they will continue to throw forth some monkey wrenches to do just that.
  2. Inspecting the root cause of poverty – The N.C. NAACP went around the state in 2011-2012 putting a face on poverty. For me, that was the cutting edge of what we need to do. You’ll recall that during the 2016 elections, there was no talk, no conversation, no debate whatsoever about poverty, no talk about racism, and I believe that we as a people must be very intentional about talking about poverty, bringing it onto the radar, and then keeping it on the radar so that people are talking about it. And if no one else is talking about it, then we need to be talking about it as a people, and strategize on how we are going to be dealing with it to make sure that others understand how important it is to us as a people.
  3. Protecting our youth – We’re dealing with the militarization that Dr. King has always talked about, and always have in the forefronts of our minds the things that this so-called democracy is supposed to stand for.

How will you work to get more young people involved in the N.C. NAACP?

“I have developed two nonprofits – one I established back in 2006 when I was pastoring in Hickory, N.C. Now we’re doing business here in Greensboro as “The B.R.I.D.G.E. Program” which is “balancing relationships, instilling dignity, growth and empathy.” The formation of that nonprofit happened while I was the education chair of the Hickory branch of the NAACP, and a teacher contacted us about five African American students who were failing. I built a program around these young men – Students Moving A Step Ahead - and took them to Detroit, Michigan for a weekend, and immersed them in higher education… and came away from that experience with these young men now thinking about going to college, as opposed to prior to that, they didn’t think about it at all.

“There were some successes that were done, and we did that for about three years, but I came to terms with the fact that it seemed to me to be a little too late. So I started another program,…and we were able to partner with the Hickory Housing unit to use this curriculum, and had some major successes on gathering young people together, giving them some cultural awareness, and helping them develop a love for their culture. By leaps and bounds, there were improvements in their lives.

“I would use that same kind of practice in trying to get young people involved in the N.C. NAACP. I’ve been working on ways to be able to present them with something we can intergenerationally involve these young people. The Scriptures tell us we are to impress upon the children, spend time with the children, we’re going to make sure that we interact with the children on 24/7 basis, thereby we will not be afraid of our children. I think the fear that we have in engaging with our children prevents us from keeping the children around us.

Next week, Bishop Dr. William J. Barber II, president of the N.C. NAACP, exclusively looks back over his 12-year tenure as he prepares to step down.