To remain a vigorous civil rights force, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People must adjust its programs, priorities, and style. That was the message brought by many of the more than 20,000 attending the NAACP's 77th and largest annual convention, held here last week.
``We can reconstruct our convention and our national programs to meet the needs of the poor and disinherited,'' says Joseph Madison of Detroit, the national board's newest member. ``Why not take our convention to a black college campus?'' he asks. ``Our people seek dignity and progress. The NAACP should attract poor people and the disinherited. We say we stand with the downtrodden for human dignity. Yet too often the forgotten and ignored are written off.''
NAACP visitors spent more than $7 million in Baltimore, he said, and most of it downtown. ``Very little of that trickled down to the black community,'' he adds.
Mr. Madison says he expresses the sentiments of participants. He also listened to the people he met on the NAACP's cross-country march against apartheid in South Africa, he says. Marchers shared the convention spotlight with Benjamin L. Hooks, who is beginning his 10th year as national executive director.
Delegates set priorities. They stressed self-help, black business enterprise, and affirmative action. They seek to strengthen the black family, ensure educational opportunities, fight crime and drug abuse, and improve housing.
The NAACP will maintain legal action as its basic civil rights weapon. It will also continue its national lobbying efforts. At the same time it will step up its activism through marches, demonstrations, boycotts, and other nonviolent means.
Economics is a key element for the NAACP, says Fred Rasheed, who heads up its activities in this area. ``We're pushing minority business development by entrepreneurs who will hire blacks.''
Delegates also set three challenges.
The first belongs to Mr. Hooks. He is to update the tactics and mission of the association. He proved himself acceptable to the modernists by supporting new tactics (for the NAACP) such as marches and youth councils. He revived such tactics as boycotts.
``He has done it all and done it well,'' said former Massachusetts Sen. Edward W. Brooke. ``He has led a movement to renew black-Jewish harmony. He has been an uncompromising activist, a builder of coalitions.''
Second, the Hooks team has the charge to stimulate youth, buppies (black yuppies), and grass-roots blacks to join the NAACP and participate in its activities.
Madison warned: ``Civil rights is more than big marches and demonstrations. I saw it on our march. We went through public housing projects. We went to depressed areas. We talked to soul people others forget about. They talk about jobs, schools, training. . . . They opposed apartheid in South Africa but asked us what the NAACP plans to do about the problems of the growing underclass of blacks in America.''
Third, the NAACP needs fresh new leaders to help Hooks, more young people as members, and even a new pattern for NAACP national conventions.
The young have many reasons to work with the NAACP, says Cassandra Elliotte of the Coatsville, Pa., Youth Council. ``More of us should be involved. We should set goals for ourselves. We have to solve our dropout problem. . . .''
As the first person elected to the 64-member board by popular vote of the convention, Madison says he expects to present some controversial ideas to that body.
``Why not make our convention more accessible to our grass-roots people?'' he asks. ``Our convention met downtown, and we lived in the city's best hotels -- well away from this city's depressed people.''