(MCT) BALTIMORE — NAACP President Ben Jealous. credited with re-energizing and modernizing the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization, announced Sunday that he will step down from his position at the end of the year.
In a written statement, Jealous said he would start a new career in teaching. The resignation will be effective Dec. 31.
Jealous, 40, took the helm of the 104-year-old organization in 2008, at a time when members openly lamented their inability to attract a younger generation to the group. He helped persuade the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to embrace new issues, like the approval of same-sex marriage. Local chapters of the NAACP said they felt less disconnected from the national office when Jealous took over.
“The NAACP has always been the largest civil rights organization in the streets, and today it is also the largest civil rights organization online, on mobile and at the ballot box too,” Jealous said in his statement. “I am proud to leave the Association financially sound, sustainable, focused, and more powerful than ever. Beginning next year, I look forward to pursuing opportunities in academia to train the next generation of leaders and, of course, spending a lot more time with my young family.”
Jealous told USA Today that he also plans to organize a fundraising committee to support candidates who will advocate civil rights.
When he was appointed five years ago, the vote was split — some members wondered whether Jealous, then 35, was too inexperienced. Now, many members agree the Baltimore-based organization needed rejuvenating.
“He has been a man on a mission since the day he took over,” said Elbridge James, the political action chairman of NAACP Maryland. “He positioned the NAACP where it needed to be for the 21st century.”
James said Jealous was among the most effective leaders of the organization in its history, and speculated that it might take some time to find a leader who could fill Jealous’ shoes.
Under Jealous, NAACP helped to repeal the death penalty in New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut and Maryland; registered hundreds of thousands of voters for the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections; and organized against New York City’s use of stop-and-frisk policing.
Jealous also became known for building strong relationships with other human and civil rights groups. Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement that Jealous turned the NAACP from an organization focused on racial issues to one that “transformed the national conversation around civil rights for all Americans.”
“On my first day on the job as HRC President back in 2012, my very first meeting was with Ben Jealous,” Griffin said. “He believes in his heart that none of us is equal until all of us are equal, and that commitment to justice for all made him an ideal national leader at this decisive moment.”
As the son of a black mother and a white father, Jealous has said he was interested in race and civil rights issues from a young age. He later studied at Columbia University, where he was suspended for helping to lead a protest against the university’s plans to turn the Audubon Ballroom, where Malcolm X was assassinated, into a biomedical research center. He later became a Rhodes scholar and earned a graduate degree from the University of Oxford. Jealous also was founding director of Amnesty International’s Human Rights Program and was a reporter for the Jackson Advocate in Mississipi, which he has described as “frequently firebombed.”
He now lives with his wife, civil rights attorney Lia Epperson Jealous, and children in Silver Spring, Md.
Jealous grew up in Pacific Grove, Calif., but his family was from Baltimore and he spent summers with his grandmother in Baltimore’s Ashburton neighborhood. His mother, Ann Todd Jealous, is a psychotherapist from Baltimore who helped desegregate Western High School. His father, Fred Jealous, was a part of sit-in demonstrations in Baltimore to desegregate lunch counters.
©2013 The Baltimore Sun
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