Part II in a two-part interview with Dr. Leonard Thompson III.
By Helen Horvath
July 5, 2020 (San Diego) -- In these tumultuous times, impacted by both COVID-19 restrictions and renewed demands for social justice, our nation is at a crossroad to resolve long standing inequities. In San Diego County we have experienced protests stemming from perceptions of inequality. Despite the ban on gatherings and risk of the coronavirus, protesters have taken to the streets, at times without facial protection or social distancing, fighting what some perceive as the greater threat of injustice.
There are organizations in the community that have a long history of working to eliminate race-based discrimination in the workplace and in the daily lives of minorities. One of these organizations is the NAACP.
In an exclusive interview with East County Magazine, Dr. Leonard Thompson III, Communications Director of the San Diego National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) discussed the impact of COVID-19 upon the NAACP’s mission in our local communities.
Background: Purpose and goal of the NAACP
Over 110 years ago, the NAACP formed to help stop violence against Black people in our nation. Slavery had ended, yet racial discrimination and violence towards Blacks had not. The NAACP is dedicated to eliminating race-based discrimination while ensuring that the health and wellbeing of all people is sustained economically, politically, educationally, and socially and that economic equality of rights is an ongoing effort The national NAACP is the largest and arguably the most well-regarded civil rights organization in in the United States, with 2,200 branches nationwide and over 2 million volunteer activists.
The NAACP, at one time, was also involved directly in legal services to reform the criminal justice system, education, employment, and workplace discrimination. The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund was involved with the successful challenge to desegregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS. In this landmark case in 1954, the Supreme Court held that segregation in public education violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, ultimately leading to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1965 and Fair Housing Act of 1968. The NAACP continues to fight for equality for all through the now separated NAACP Legal Defense Fund. The NAACP LDF is a non-profit legal organization and operates on a donation basis (click to access website).
San Diego NAACP branch office
The San Diego branch, established in 1919, is an-all volunteer organization seeking highly qualified volunteers. The local branch office is comprised of high profile and knowledgeable executive committee members. The volunteer force has attorneys, mental health providers, pastors, educators, and other key professional backgrounds to provide service to the community.
The current President is Francine Maxwell. She provides leadership and guidance to the San Diego NAACP branch as she implements national NAACP policies and procedures in San Diego. Maxwell is a southeastern San Diego resident.
Dr. Thompson is the Director of Communications for the San Diego NAACP Branch.
Dr. Thompson and the NAACP: leadership from within
In our interview, Dr. Thompson first discussed how he became involved as an activist in the San Diego Branch of the NAACP.
“As a member of the San Diego Urban League early in my career, I worked towards equality for all while fighting discrimination for people of color,” he said. “As a long-time volunteer, I have worked for many non-profit organizations in my long career. I was uniquely qualified through my prior activism in my career and my business, M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records.” He began providing services for the San Diego NAACP Freedom Fundraising event in 2019 and was later invited by President Maxwell to work as a volunteer Communications Director for the organization.
“Our nation is continually changing. That leads to the need to improve upon the National NAACP goals and plans,” he notes. “ In 2011, the National NAACP worked to create a modification to the past strategic plans and direction of the overall organization. The strategic direction is known as the “Strategic Plan – Game Changers for the 21st Century.”
The six NAACP Game Changer Strategies include economic sustainability, education, health equality, expanding youth and youth adult engagement, public safety, and criminal justice, and voting rights and political representation as core guiding principles for all branches and units within the NAACP. The modification updates the original formation reasons while maintaining the overall need to address social justice issues in our nation. This has created a powerful NAACP vision for communities to end racial discrimination and bias.
COVID-19 and the NAACP San Diego
We asked Dr. Thompson how the new strategic and powerful vision and mission of the San Diego NAACP has been impacted by COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Thompson replied, “The mission is always changing.” At the same time, he added, “We continue to fight to stop discrimination and fight for equal education.” Underserved youth in our communities have been challenged due to distance learning and bridging the gap between learning and teaching methods for children of color, he adds.
On recent protests
Dr. Thompson observed, “We have social unrest that is lessened when people become involved with civic minded membership.” The key to the ongoing success during the pandemic, in his view is to have “a well-oiled organization. Organizations that are not well oiled (i.e. missing strategic plans) cause disenfranchisement for people with a trickle-down effect upon all people in the community. We cannot have civil rights legislation without this,” he says of the need for well-oiled processes and systems within organizations.
Regarding the pandemic, ECM asked about recent protests and civil unrest in La Mesa as well as the overall community. County residents have been shuttered in with a stay at home order. Based upon review of various social media over the past few months, there has been frustration at the stay at home order as well as frustration over racial injustice issues, potentially contributing to the rioting and looting that followed protests in some communities.
Dr. Thompson stated, “The events in La Mesa were very disappointing.” He said he was “livid” to see looters who wanted a “free shopping spree,” adding that often, “people come to protest to create anarchy.”
He disapproves of that approach. “This does not create change,” he said. Instead, such actions take away from the narrative of stopping discrimination, he believes, adding, “The community needs to stay focused upon issues.”
Leaders need to be able to tell why an action is happening, without violence, he suggests. “If you do not subscribe to a belief” and argue a belief, he concluded, “We cannot operate and treat (people) with dignity.”
COVID-19, education and more
Based upon the June 24-25, 2020 San Diego County Department of Health and Human Services report, there have been 6,508 Hispanic COVID-19 cases and 1,209 other ethnicities who have contracted COVID-19. San Diego County reported 299 Black community members who tested positive for COVID-19. Nationally there have been more than 100,000 Black families impacted by COVID-19 as a healthcare and fiscal issue.
These statistics led to advocacy questions relating to how the San Diego NAACP’s advocacy healthcare mission is currently operating in this COVID-19 environment.
Dr. Thompson stated, “We are always advocating that certain things happen. The feeding of children at school was an early issue is Southeast San Diego. We worked with the San Diego School District to push for more sites to provide under privileged children meals through the schools. We worked with County Officials to ensure that public COVID-19 testing became available. If a resident was COVID-19 positive, we worked with the resident to ensure that care was provided. NAACP has been involved in this community to continue advocacy.”
The San Diego NAACP branch has begun the process, through leadership from President Maxwell, to work towards implementing the Game Changers for 21st Century plan locally, Dr. Thompson added. That plan includes health care, public safety, economic sustainability and other key national NAACP strategic plans.
Education is a key issue. “The NAACP is concerned about the return to school orders,” Dr. Thompson told ECM. “There are parents who state that children should not wear masks. Yet the question becomes, how to protect the teachers who are considered vital workers? During this time of COVID-19, (our communities) could literally address these issues during this time where young people are taught at home. The quandary is that parents must work, yet who will watch the children?” he asks. “To work towards economic sustainability, our community must get the economy going. Education is not money driven; yet there are certain advocacy positions that may include some home schooling.”
Fundraising during a pandemic
The financial structure of the NAACP is based upon contributions through both a 501(C)(4) organization that is not tax deductible and a 501(C)(3) for NAACP empowerment programs for training and education. Corporate donors and partners are able to donate directly to the NAACP empowerment programs. Community members interested in donating to help fund the local NAACP branch operations do not receive tax deductions for contributions due to the 501(C)(4) tax status of local NAACP branches.
Dr. Thompson discussed the impact to fundraising efforts as a result of the pandemic and higher unemployment. He was happy to report, “Fundraising in this time has become epic for all civil rights organizations,” enabling them to “channel their efforts to continue the movement” for social justice. “Times are tough; yet, people have bigger giving hearts. We are prepared to receive resources to bless us.”
In 2019, the NAACP SD hosted a 100th Anniversary Freedom Fund Dinner. We asked about the impact of COVID-19 upon the local NAACP fundraising efforts. Dr. Thompson said, “Funny thing,” noting that this is a to-be-continued talk. “We do not have a hard-core solution; yet, we will probably have more information in a month.” The annual fundraising information will be published on the San Diego NAACP branch website.
“We are not changing our fundraising models. The ongoing message and need for resources are totally volunteer. Because of this, the money raised goes directly to NAACP services.” Dr.Thompson explained. “The services (in our community and NAACP) are so great. The NAACP and our members continue to sow seeds” to create change, he adds. “We recommend that the community look for organizations to support,” as volunteers or through financial donations.
The San Diego NAACP does not receive funding from the government. “We are independent of the government. At the same time, we collaborate with government agencies who ask for our advice and recommendations,” Dr. Thompson said. “We feed those in need” emotionally and physically. “The NAACP over the past century has become a voice of all people.”
Despite having local chapters, he noted, “Our total efforts are not prioritized by regional area. We use the six game changer strategies to continually align our mission to community needs. Through consistent leadership and the work of the 1st Vice President, Brian Bonner, we are continually growing our membership. We are consistently meeting with a variety of sponsors and funders as we grow and seek locations to give. This has been a blessing for the San Diego NAACP branch as we see a rise in growth of our organization through community giving and support.”
Meeting community needs for the future
Towards the end of the interview, the conversation turned towards current concerns within the San Diego NAACP and for the San Diego community.
Dr. Thompson noted that there are “a lot of concerns. We do not need civil unrest.” Instead, he said, “We need to address civil rights as a whole issue. Issues include discrimination in Section 8 housing, homelessness, and education. There is upheaval… how people work with children of color as we push the educational rights of the community” is another issue, he noted. “The NAACP has created initiatives with sustainable energy to benefit the San Diego communities. There is so much more work to be done.”
The NAACP leader concluded with this message for the public. “The San Diego NAACP is continually pushing for change. Our organization embraces all. The San Diego and national NAACP can use your help if you are willing to work hard to create change. As a society, our interests may differ; we can agree to disagree in an agreeable manner. The NAACP would love to meet with the community as our organization continues to work toward creating change.”
To work with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, you can contact the LDF here. The LDF is also a non-profit that would benefit from our community’s support and volunteerism.
To volunteer or join the San Diego NAACP please go to this link. Remember that this is a volunteer organization and the NAACP relies upon community generosity to keep the light of freedom burning in our nation.
Photographs and logo are the intellectual property of the San Diego NAACP. The Thompson family photographs are the intellectual property of Dr. and Mrs. Thompson.
Dr. Helen Horvath is a published author, psychologist, and organizational development consultant. As a speaker, she has been invited to speak at the American Psychological Association Annual Conference, Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and other key professional organizations. Dr. Horvath is a published author on a variety of psychology and business related topics. She is a former marriage and family therapist and published a relationship book entitled “Put a Period to IT: When Divorce is the Option.”
East County Magazine gratefully thanks the Facebook Journalism Project for support through its COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program to help make this reporting possible. #FacebookJournalismProject. You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.