BALTIMORE—During his speeches to Philadelphia schoolchildren, J. Whyatt Mondesire, the head of that city’s NAACP branch, likes to offer $20 to the student who can decode his group’s acronym.
Many of them think he’s on a recruiting junket for the NCAA–the National Collegiate Athletic Association. “I’ve only had to give away my money twice in seven years,” Mondesire says. “That’s my challenge.”
As the Baltimore-based NAACP searches for a leader to replace outgoing president Kweisi Mfume, the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization is at a crossroads, some say, presented with a chance to redefine its identity with younger black Americans who, unlike their parents, don’t immediately think of the group when they think of civil rights.
Some members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, such as Mondesire, think a big name is the answer. A nationally recognized figure, such as hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, would appeal to the next generation. But some members of the old guard are pushing for an insider, a veteran NAACP member who could navigate the treacherous waters of an unwieldy body with disparate agendas.