For the past two years, the local NAACP has suffered internal dissent and shrunk from being a forceful presence in Portland. The former President and administration were accused by community members of ignoring pleas for assistance in civil rights violations and, moreover, of using the hefty reputation of the NAACP to promote their own business pursuits. In February, a representative from the NAACP's national offices chaired a local meeting and cleaned house. Former President Roy Jay and Vice-President JoAnn Bowman resigned. Since then, Osborne has tried to re-enter Portland politics using baby steps.
"We're basically starting out as if we never existed before," explains Osborne in his first media interview since taking office. Although the former administration was ousted, they've remained a vexing presence. Osborne has wrestled with them over such basic changing-of-the-guard duties as the rights to the organization's post office box and ownership of the local NAACP website. During the interview, Osborne occasionally gets bogged down explaining the scrimmages, but he pulls himself back onto the more important task at hand: Re-establishing street credibility for the NAACP and re-defining the organization's mission.
"We're a sleeping giant," he says, pausing before flashing a big smile and adding, "ready to arise with a big club."
Although Osborne admits that he's still sorting through the remedial administrative tasks necessary to start an organization, he has begun to set forward an agenda. He mentions potential legal action against the Portland police in regard to Byron Hammond, a black man shot by officers last fall. He shows a couple of letters from inmates in Oregon's prisons complaining about racism and injustices. Although still emerging, the new agenda for the new incarnation of the NAACP seems to be addressing the injustices suffered at the hands of the Oregon justice system.
Perhaps one of the most challenging chores facing Osborne is defining exactly what racism means in Portland, and in what ways civil rights are being violated. Studies about traffic stops in Portland have confirmed the belief that African Americans and Latinos are being pulled over more frequently than whites. Osborne mentions these in passing, but doesn't yet offer solutions.
One of the other challenges facing the NAACP is whether the organization should play defense, waiting for notice of civil rights violations to come their way, or pursue a role of aggressively hunting down racism. The newly elected First Vice-President of the organization, Robert Larry, had been a controversial member in the previous administration. He had rallied against the direction of the NAACP and led campaigns to sniff out more subtle forms of racism, like gentrification and unfair loan practices. It is probable with his influence and interests that the organization--in addition to the more obvious battles against police brutality--will actively attempt to root out more subtle civil rights violations.
After years of political lethargy from the local NAACP, such leadership and compassion is promising.
The next meeting for the NAACP will be held on Saturday June 22, at 10:30 am, at 602 NE Prescott. Osborne emphasizes that the meeting is open to all. "Most whites think that you need to be black to be a member you don't," he insists. "Black, white, polka-dotted, Martian--if your civil rights have been violated, we're interested."