By Cash Michaels –
Though he insists that he’s “really not leaving,” Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, President of the State Conference of the North Carolina NAACP, says he will be “transitioning” from the state presidency next month to join a national “poor people’s” campaign to address issues of poverty and social inequality.
“I’m not going to run for another term [as president] of the North Carolina NAACP, and I will step down in June,” the civil rights leader said Wednesday during a teleconference.
Maintaining that the NC NAACP is “…strong in our legal victories; strong in our organizational structure; strong financially and strong in the clarity of agenda…,” the civil rights leader expressed confidence that the next state president, coming from among the organization’s four vice presidents, will be up to the task.
Barber has been president of the North Carolina chapter, the largest in the South, since 2005. He led the once troubled conference into national prominence with weekly Moral Monday demonstrations at the North Carolina state legislature since 2013, and challenging the state on controversial cases of alleged racial injustice.
The key to Barber’s success was his ability to lead diverse racial and religious coalitions to demand change on issues ranging from equal education to affordable health care. Subsequently the Christian leader was invited to twenty-three states last year to do “moral revival” training, sparking Moral Monday demonstrations as far away as Chicago.
In recent years, Rev. Barber has been recognized as a key voice in the progressive movement nationally, garnering him numerous appearances on MSNBC and CNN, and stories in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal; an address during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia; and the keynote sermon at Riverside Church in Harlem last month commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s April 4, 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” address.
His numerous appearances across the country gradually fueled speculation that Rev. Barber was steadily ascending to national leadership. Last Wednesday, he confirmed that he will be “following a deep calling” and “transitioning to an expansion of the work around the country.”
“We found that there is a deep hunger for a shift in our moral narrative in the nation, and I’ve been asked by a number of moral leaders and impacted persons and advocates to join with them in helping to bring some leadership, energy and unity to helping to build the Poor People’s campaign, and a national call for a moral revival.”
Rev. Barber said the campaign will focus on 25 states and the District of Columbia, with at least half of them in the South, including North Carolina, culminating with the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.
“In the times in which we live, our country still needs to address the issues of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and militarism, and our national morality,” Rev. Barber said. “We need a moral narrative.”
Though Barber is leaving the North Carolina NAACP presidency, he is not leaving the civil rights organization. He says he’ll still be a member of the state conference, and will still sit on the national NAACP board.
Nor will Barber be leaving Greenleaf Christian Church, which he pastors, saying that doing so keeps him in close touch with the needs of the people.
He will join the national effort under the banner of his own social justice group known as “Repairers of the Breach,” which, in partnership with the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights and Social Justice at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and other social justice and theologian activists, will sponsor “The Souls of Poor Folk: Auditing America 50 years after the Poor People’s Campaign Challenged Racism, Militarism, Poverty and Our National Morality” leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign.”
“In 1968, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and others knew the nation needed a Poor People’s Campaign to challenge extremism,” said Rev. Barber. “Today, we recognize that in order to challenge the extremist policies that are being proposed at the highest levels of government, which hurt the most vulnerable, we need a Moral Revival Poor People’s Campaign. We must advance a moral movement in America, that can move beyond the limited language of left-versus-right politics.”