NAACP seeks a youth movement

The NAACP is wrestling with its own generation gap.

The baby boomer generation, a crucial part of the civil-rights campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s, is creeping into retirement. But the boomers’ children and grandchildren — men and women in their 20s, 30s and 40s — aren’t joining the NAACP at the same rate. Without new blood, leaders worry, the organization could wither away.

That’s why NAACP branches across the country, including in the Kansas City area, have formed young adult committees that are trying to recruit and retain members between the ages of 21 and 40. It’s been a top priority for the group’s president, Benjamin Todd Jealous, who was the youngest-ever NAACP chief executive when he took office in 2008 at age 35.

Part of the problem, leaders say, is that younger generations don’t always see why the NAACP is necessary.

“They feel that there’s nothing there for them,” said Kendra Kemp-Trammel, chairwoman of the Kansas City branch’s young adults committee.

But the group is still needed to push for civil rights and equality for “people of any race, cultural and socioeconomic background, religion, or sexual orientation … at any age,” she said.

This year, the area’s local branches plan to cooperate on a yearlong civic engagement initiative, said James Connelly, president of the Johnson County NAACP. They’re planning to hold political forums and voter-registration events, and they’ll use new tools such as social media to reach a younger audience.

Reaching that demographic is crucial, he said. “It’s very important to our future.”

The local NAACP branches already have undertaken a series of outreach events. On the last Friday of the month, the Johnson County and Kansas City branches team up to host a networking get-together at venues around the city, Kemp-Trammel said.

During the Kansas City mayoral election last spring, the Kansas City branch hosted a debate between candidates Sly James and Mike Burke at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. About 100 people attended and pushed the candidates to talk about economic development, education, health care, infrastructure and other issues.

Months later, after James had been in office for 100 days, the group teamed with groups such as the Young Latino Professionals of Greater Kansas City to host a public forum to review how his time in office was going so far.

It led to a good turnout and a good discussion, she said. “A lot of people were talking about accountability,” Kemp-Trammel said.