The new county NAACP President Terence Williams is hoping that his forward-thinking philosophy and focus on education will help grow the influence of the organization.
“I don’t think it’s so much of a change because we are definitely already on the right course, but we have to reach our full potential and work from a plan,” said Williams, who replaces Robert Malloy as local NAACP head. “That is where I can help.”
Williams, who failed to win re-election this year to the county school board, said his new leadership role affords him another opportunity to serve the community.
“And although I am certainly excited as an individual, this is not about me. The NAACP is membership led and membership driven,” he said.
Calling the NAACP the “oldest, largest and most recognized grassroots civil rights organization in the country,” Williams said that he wants help it continue fulfilling its mission as the “premier advocate for civil rights.”
“We do that by ensuring political, educational and socio-economic equality within minority groups … and by seeking to remove any racial discrimination by way of the democratic process.”
The education component of the organization’s mission holds special meaning to Williams, who worries that the younger generations of NAACP members might lack vigilance if not appropriately informed about the history of civil rights in America.
“Being able to understand the sacrifices that have been made and being able to now embrace the totality of our history and to see where we were placed in that history – to see what our founding fathers did in that history — is of great importance.”
Confident that the history can be inspirational to young people, Williams said that he will work to make sure they have the opportunity to learn it.
“We have a tremendous amount of great minds but we haven’t done a great job of teaching the history through our schools.
“If I had not learned these lessons, I would have been reckless and foolish. I would not have had an appreciation for cultural diversity.”
Improving the quality of local education, both in school and in the home through improved parent involvement, will also advance Williams’ immediate goal of increasing membership.
Because of the intimate relationship the NAACP shares with churches and because of the membership overlap, the decline in local church enrollment that Williams has observed is troubling, he said.
Williams thinks that decline is partly due to technology.
“You will see membership decreases in churches because of the change in access. People can get the message on television. The people that do go to church don’t carry their Bibles. They have the Bible on iPhone. Everything is evolving and we have to evolve with it.”
One example of the national NAACP’s advance in technology could be found in the run up to this year’s election. The NAACP developed a groundbreaking nationwide voter database that allowed for high value precincts to be identified and turned out via phone banking. The increased efficiency facilitated by that system has been credited in part for the excellent black turnout on Nov. 6 and during early voting.
“People died for the right to vote and the vote means power, and racism and classicism are all about the balance of power. And by voting and turning out the vote we make sure that people who protect our rights are elected and that ground is not lost.”
Economic equality, from loan access to chamber of commerce membership, is also something Williams will emphasize during his tenure.
“We don’t want to create a welfare system but a fair system, where we are all sharing in the losses and celebrating the gains. This way we realize that our interests are the same and that we are all more alike than we are different.”
During his two years as an NAACP executive committee member, Williams worked to increase black membership in the Laurinburg/Scotland County Area Chamber of Commerce, a move which he said has been successful and led to the empowerment of both black and white business owners.
“I see so much of the economic disparity still within our community and there are many things that we have to revisit.”
By eliminating barriers to funding through lobbying to improve minority access to loans and by encouraging minority entrepreneurship through grant writing services, Williams thinks that the NAACP will find a new but equally important role in the civil rights landscape.
If he is successful as a leader, Williams said that the organization will be charged and innvervated from the bottom up.
“Good leadership is invisible, collective and diversified. My intent is to move the organization from good theories to good practice.”
With a strong youth program headed by Rena McNeil, Williams is certain that the NAACP will remain vital.
“We just need to leverage the talent that we have in our membership, and to bring more people into active participation,” Williams said, referencing the Biblical Book of Matthew. “We have a community of talented individuals and we need to be able to utilize them and become the change that we are looking for – not waiting for it to come from elsewhere.”
Williams is pastor of From the Word International Fellowship Ministries in Laurinburg. He was elected to the school board in 2008. He has also served as president of the N.C. Caucus of Black School Board Members.