Leadership 500: Ensuring the Promise of Progress

Omar Woodard

In its 102nd year, the NAACP moves forthrightly into the 21st Century with a new generation of leadership.  With Chairman Roslyn M. Brock and President Benjamin Todd Jealous at the helm, the NAACP is poised to re-engage young professionals on a host of issues from civil rights to wealth creation and social justice.

In addition to Chairman Brock and President Jealous, we have seen the proliferation of a new generation of African American executive leadership in the public, private and nonprofit sectors.  To provide a platform for these current and future leaders to network, from May 26-29 the NAACP will host its 7th Annual Leadership 500 Summit in Hollywood, FL.  It is the NAACP’s premier conference for executives, educators, thought leaders and aspiring leaders from across the U.S.

From coast to coast African American political leadership, in particular, is on the rise.  The sitting President of the United States aside, other statewide elected officials like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris, nationally recognized municipal chief executives like Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter and Newark Mayor Cory Booker are forging a new path; increasing the influence and role of underrepresented groups in city halls and statehouses across the nation.  In the 2010 election, the Republican Party added two new African Americans to the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressmen Allen West of Florida and Tim Scoot of South Carolina.

While it is now more common to see African Americans and individuals from other underrepresented groups at the highest echelons of public life, and this is undoubtedly important progress for our nation.  To sustain this new reality, organizations like the NAACP must do what they have always done, collaborate with and provide opportunities for young people to engage in the critical issues of the day.  We must create an environment for future African American and other underrepresented groups to thrive as political, corporate and nonprofit leaders by providing leadership development and networking support.  By doing so, boardrooms and legislatures alike will become as diverse as America actually is.

Every year that is what Leadership 500 strives to do: enhance the skills and broaden the aspirations of a talented generation of young leaders committed to promoting and protecting civil rights, securing a fair criminal justice system, ensuring high quality educational opportunities and adequate housing and health care for all Americans.  The promise of our continued progress depends on it.

Omar Woodard is the former Chair of the NAACP International Affairs Committee (DC Chapter) and is a Trustee of The George Washington University.

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