The recently revived Yale chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People hosted a special dinner and program of speakers to commemorate the achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. on Wednesday evening in the Calhoun College Master’s House.
Co-sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center and Calhoun College, the event drew 52 students who came to hear the NAACP’s General Counsel to the Legal Defense Fund Victor Bolden, University Chaplain Reverend Frederick Streets and Calhoun Master Jonathan Holloway speak on the significance of King’s legacy and the current socioeconomic and political status of the black community. The dinner and performances served as the reactivated NAACP’s “inaugural event,” reintroducing the group to campus after a more than decade of absence, members of the organization said.
“This was a great opportunity to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and also establish ourselves on campus,” NAACP co-President Andrea McChristian ’08 said. “We wanted to open up the semester by showing the campus our agenda right off the bat.”
The evening began with a dinner service and continued with a performance by WORD, a student poetry group, followed by informal talks by Streets, Bolden and Holloway. Reverend Streets, who met King as a teenager when the activist came to speak at his church, paid homage to King by describing the great ambitions he had despite his relatively young age.
“Don’t let anyone tell you you’re too young to be a revolutionary,” he said to the crowd.
Bolden, who is responsible for advising the NAACP on its internal legal matters and directing its affirmative action agenda, discussed recent statistics showing that young people of African American descent are more likely not to have a high school diploma than to have graduated college. But he said the black community still has “reason to hope” because of the lasting influence of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the socioeconomic progress made by his followers.
“This holiday provides a time for reflection and rededication to the work done by the civil rights activist,” he said.
Bolden’s arrival coincides with a revived interest in the NAACP among Yale students.
McChristian said a small group of students began planning for the re-establishment of the Yale NAACP chapter during the summer, and the group was formally inducted as a student organization two months ago. The chapter currently boasts 25 members, but the executive board hopes to raise that number to 50 by the end of the academic year, McChristian said.
The organization has hosted smaller-scale events such as film screenings during the fall semester, but its officers said they hope to expand its agenda this term. They plan to collaborate with the Undergraduate Organizing Committee to lobby for increased financial aid, team up with student service groups to give aid to the homeless and initiate specialized college mentorship programs within the New Haven community, McChristian said.
NAACP members said although the chapter was active in the Yale community in the early 1990s, enthusiasm for the organization dissipated in recent years after some of its prominent student leaders graduated.
The presence of the organization has become especially relevant in light of a number of recent incidents of allegedly racist content in college publications, said William Holley ’10, vice president of recruitment and membership for the Yale chapter.
“The NAACP looks forward to working with the administration to develop an enforceable action plan that deals with racist and other derogatory statements by college publications,” he said.
McChristian said she hopes the re-establishment of the Yale chapter will encourage students at the other Ivy League universities to revive their chapters as well. She said Yale is the only Ivy League institution with an established NAACP presence, though the University of Connecticut has recently revived its chapter as well.
“We originally thought we were going to be part of community,” she said. “But I’m sure that there is some interest in other colleges, so maybe we can lead the way.”
Wariz Anifowoshe ’10 said he is still deliberating on whether he will join the group, but he thinks it will be distinctive from the other groups within the black community because its connection to the national organization allows it to focus on making contributions to the city beyond the school campus.
“I like the national scope that it offers, but I have to make sure that I don’t have any time constraints first because I want to be fully committed to it,” he said.
The NAACP plans to hold a special theater and dance program on Feb. 16 to celebrate Black History Month.