Kansas City, Mo. — Sensing a need for younger members and a fresh approach to changing priorities, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is aiming to become more visible, more political, and more youth-oriented.
The changes involve both the style and substance of the group's activities, starting with an effort to shore up its leadership.
After a battle last year for control of the NAACP, members appear ready to close ranks behind executive director Benjamin L. Hooks. But the association appears short of aggressive leadership in top positions.
Board chairman Kelly M. Alexander Jr. of Charlotte, N.C., is a powerful force as national board chairman, but he represents the old guard. His gruff style - seen as necessary in the 1960s - is not viewed in some circles as appropriate today. Thomas I. Atkins, an able and active general counsel, has resigned. An interim legal director has been appointed, but a search has been launched for a new counsel.
The association's hopes for the future are represented in two young leaders, Earl T. Shinhoster, director of the NAACP Southern region, and Joseph Madison, director of voter registration and education.
''Many black people, especially young achievers, are caught up on economic . . . success,'' says Mr. Shinhoster. The NAACP should lead creative efforts to ''wake up black people and black institutions, to alert them not to be complacent,'' he says.
The creativity he is calling for was apparent in the more flamboyant, publicity-oriented activities that took place at the NAACP conference held last week in Kansas City, Mo. Breaking with the tradition that has limited the organization to legal and legislative activities, press conferences, news releases, and quiet campaigning, the group staged a week of high-profile meetings featuring Jesse Jackson and Michael Jackson.
The appearance of the former Jackson was an indication of the NAACP's increasingly partisan attitude in politics.
A year ago, executive director Hooks and the NAACP actively opposed the idea of a black candidate running for president, as Mr. Jackson advocated. This year the group claimed the peacemaker role in bringing together Jackson and Walter Mondale, in an effort to unify the Democratic Party. Harmony between these two is likely to keep blacks in the Democratic Party at the ballot box in November.
And while the NAACP passed its usual declaration of being nonpartisan politically, most of its public speakers and workshop discussion leaders emphasized a goal of preventing the reelection of President Reagan in November. Hooks was the key articulator of that role, denouncing ''Reaganistics'' in numerous addresses.
The dazzling appearance of the latter Jackson and his family prior to the start of their nationwide singing tour was an example of the group's outreach to young people. Mr. Jackson announced that the NAACP will be permitted to set up voter registration booths in front of concert sites. Members of the Jackson family have been named co-chairmen of the voter-registration drive. They also received the NAACP humanitarian award at the convention.
A growing new NAACP program of ''youth Olympics'' in academics and the fine arts, brought more than 1,000 young achievers as participants. In addition, the youth division of the association held its own subconvention.
''We have the largest youth department of any national organization in the nation,'' Hooks says.
Those young members will be essential to carrying out the more activist role the NAACP is assuming. Shinhoster, one of the rising younger officials, comes from the key area in a boycott announced at the convention against Food Lion Inc., a Southern supermarket chain. The boycott is aimed at increasing job opportunities for blacks.
In addition to expanding its activities, Hooks says the NAACP is examining more sensitive issues that are difficult to resolve, not the least of which is the strained relations between many blacks and Jews.
At the last minute, the conference passed a resolution encouraging active pursuit of ways to improving black-Jewish relations. Although the resolution had only lukewarm support at best, a delegate quickly moved for its passage; several delegates seconded, and a voice vote was declared favorably.
Yet the convention mood on the issue was largely unfavorable. While members refused to be quoted directly, many indicated that they felt that Jews had abandoned the cause of affirmative action.
Still, harmony with Jews ''and all religious and ethnic communities'' is traditional NAACP policy, says Althea Simmons, director of the Washington bureau and chief lobbyist of the association.