The historic Baltimore Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded on April 4, 1912. However, 99 years and two weeks later, this Examiner broke the story of this branch being investigated of multiple charges ranging from theft and the misappropriations of funds to the misuse of administrative branch power, which has led some iconic Baltimore civil rights leaders to speak out against this unprecedented act of misbehavior and malfeasance.
Currently under investigation is the former Branch administration, under the leadership of past President Marvin ‘Doc’ Cheatham. Also listed in this 17-count indictment of charges, served through what is known as an Article X complaint filed at the National NAACP office, are current Branch President and former 2nd Vice-President Tessa Hill-Aston, her husband Joe Aston who served as Treasurer for the Branch for the past six years and is now a part of the Executive Committee, along with Cheatham; as well as the Branch’s 1st Vice-President Ellis Staten and Secretary Bette Brooks. The charges, brought forth by 38 members of the NAACP Baltimore Branch, led by the very well respected former National Board member and current 1st Vice-President of the Maryland State Chapter of the NAACP, Marjorie ‘Marge’ Green.
The former NAACP Baltimore Branch President, and current President of the Baltimore Chapter of the Al Sharpton led National Action Network, ‘Doc’ Cheatham has responded to the latest allegations via a comment sent to Bmorenews in which he states the following: ““In accordance with guidelines of the organization no comment at this time other than a significant amount of wild, unsubstantiated allegations, lies, unfounded assumptions and misinformation from bitter individuals that lost elections and did not support the branch.”
However, these allegations have led some to their outright disgust of the Branch and its leadership, especially those who have a direct connection to the Branch through years of distinguished service and family ties. One such critic is the lovable leader in Baltimore known to many as “the Bear”. Clarence Mitchell III, also known as C3, has long ties to this historic branch based on both his mother’s, and grandmother’s, tireless and dedicated leadership to this City, through their reigns as President of the Baltimore Branch. The former twenty year state senator, revered by many in black, and white, communities throughout the City of Baltimore, spoke to his distaste for the current lack of “courageous leadership”, once seen by the likes of true civil servants such as his brother Parren Mitchell, his father Clarence Mitchell Jr., not to mention the strong women in his family – Lillie Mae Carroll Jackson and Juanita Jackson Mitchell.
“These so-called leaders have no backbone, no courage to do what is right for the people. They seem to be only considering what is beneficial to themselves, without ever thinking about those they were elected to serve,” said the civil rights pioneer. “The enemy today is no longer the white man, it is us; black folk. We are so busy being selfish, greedy and self-centered, that we can’t see beyond the horizons of hope that our President [Obama] has called upon.” The Baltimore legislative and community icon spoke to how past administrations such as Lillie Mae’s and Juanita’s weren’t a cake walk, and suffered through lack of participation by our own people, however they took it upon themselves not to just have monthly meetings, but were innovative and had mixers afterwards where they would have punch and snacks, throw on a record and mingle amongst themselves. “How can you go to war for your people, and not know the soldiers that are fighting side by side with you on a daily basis,” questioned Mitchell. “We don’t know one another these days. With the advent of this computer and Facebook stuff, we don’t get to see, speak or physically touch one another enough, therefore when that opportunity arises; you have to capitalize on it as best you can. I mean who really wants to go to some boring, stuffy old monthly meeting, with a bunch of old geezers sitting around politicking? You have to give people incentives to want to join and be apart of the movement, then you will eventually achieve success.”
Speaking exactly to her discomfort with the past and current Branch of the NAACP, member Betty Robinson, who came through a her own path of resistance in the 60’s and 70’s, spoke to her frustrations of the recent charges and past practices. “I actually mailed my check in to the Branch office a couple years ago, and though my check was cashed, I never received a membership card, letter or anything in the mail,” said the longtime and well respected Baltimore activist. “I chalked it up to administrative inefficiency, however reviewing these past allegations, I’m not so sure anymore?” Both leaders questioned the current administrations strategy in effectively representing the citizens of Baltimore, as neither has heard a peep from the newly elected President – or her elected Branch officers.
“The people no longer have a clear choice, or voice, in their representation from an organization that has time and time again declared themselves to be the oldest and boldest, baddest and bravest, most fussed and discussed group; all these adjectives hyping up what you’re suppose to be, yet when the people need you they can’t find you,” said Baltimore activist and leader, Daren Muhammad who is the Host of the WFBR 1590AM program known as the ‘State of the City’. “The reality is, a sad reality, that the citizens of Baltimore can no longer count on the representation of this group’s advocacy on anything of importance to their everyday lives,” said the talk-show host on a recent interview on Bmorenews.
“I question the precedent of the charges levied against these Branch officers, as I cannot remember anytime in recent history where the historic Baltimore Branch of the NAACP was accused of such maliciously blatant charges of corruption,” said Host and Founder of Bmorenews.com Doni Glover. “The silence of the new administration is deafening as it relates to important issues such as the Torbit case, the Werdesheim case and even the $12-million lead paint poisoning of our children that the Housing Authority of this City, along with the Mayor, have refused to pay?” Yet Mr. Muhammad states that it is a conflict of interest for the current Branch President as it relates to the latter charge, as she currently works for the Mayor, in the Housing Authority administration. “This is a great disservice to our children, their parents, as well as the community as a whole,” said Brother Daren, as he is affectionately known by many.
With the Branch’s 100-year anniversary upcoming in less than a year now, does this current case of alleged misconduct and abuse of power overshadow the great work done by past leaders such as Lillie Mae, Juanita Jackson, Enolia McMillan, and the Branch’s 1st President Reverend Dr. Garnett Russell Waller? Where does these allegations now lead a Branch in peril, with an administration obviously less productive than the one prior, yet having some of the same individuals serving that are implicated in this recent corruption case? Only time shall tell, however one thing remains certain, the need for a civil rights advocacy organization with a leadership that is “unbought and unbossed”, that serves the interest of the people, is still as prevalent and needed today, as it was 50-years ago! The question is; who shall pick up that mantle and serve the people of Baltimore effectively and efficiently?
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