Sewanee’s NAACP gathers together to enact change on campus. Photo by Olivier Mbabazi (C’22).
By Samuel Carter
The NAACP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the nation’s largest and most widely recognized civil rights organization, will now have a chapter at the University of the South.
The NAACP was founded in Baltimore, MD, in 1909 with the goal to “secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons.” Specifically, the Youth and College Division, with which Sewanee will be affiliated, seeks to create a “new generation of civil rights and community leaders.”
David “Chief” Johnson (C’19) has been involved with the NAACP since high school, serving as the president of the Tennessee Youth and College Division since 2013 and as a representative on the National Youth Work Committee for the National Board of Directors since last year.
A result of being involved with the organization, Johnson had always wanted to start a chapter at Sewanee, but, until this year, there was not enough student interest. Even then, he was hesitant since he would be graduating from the University so soon after beginning the chapter.
“The NAACP is not just some club,” he said, “it’s a serious national organization that carries a brand with it.” For this reason, he knew he needed to find committed and passionate individuals to take the reins during the club’s formative years and to ensure its success in raising up a new generation of civil rights activists in Sewanee.
He found such members in Tija Odoms (C’21) and Klarke Stricklen (C’22). Odoms had worked with Johnson since last year to see if the club could be implemented, and Stricklen’s drive for activism upon entering the University this year gave the club the strength it needed to take root.
“For me, having the NAACP here was incredibly important,” said Stricklen. She added, “it is honing in on the skills of student activists, as well as advocating for other issues that are close to home.” For Stricklen, who plans for a career as a civil rights attorney, the NAACP will give her the opportunity to initiate change that can reach not only Sewanee students but people off of the Domain.
Odoms hopes the club will be a catalyst for activism on campus and will unite different student organizations. She said, “It bothers me that we have so many subgroups that represent different parts of people’s identities, but we don’t come together often… I think it gives all people the opportunity to come together and address the issues that all multicultural groups face on campus.”
With the needed interest and leadership, the club began to form. Signatures poured in from interested individuals, and Odoms and Stricklen gained approval from the SGA after presenting on April 8. Johnson will present the club to the National Board of Directors in May to obtain a national charter.
While the club is still developing, members have already started meeting and preparing to take action. They want to focus on making activism long-term. Stricklen hopes to plan for action wisely and make students’ voices heard by the right people so that demonstrations can be more effective. “We want to make sure the protest is the last thing we do because we have already made the right connections to solve the issues that Sewanee students face,” she said.
Odoms added that the club hopes to make available the information of who to address for different problems on campus so that students “can understand the power chain at Sewanee” and address issues effectively.
Additionally, a major goal for the club will be helping students adequately prepare to vote. “As a college campus, we should all be aware of who we’re voting for,” said Stricklen, who, along with Odoms, hopes to work with other campus organizations to help people get registered and well-informed about voting.
The club is also looking to engage in service trips off campus and partner with NAACP chapters at other colleges. Odoms hopes that the club will be able to serve the communities of students, keeping the organization relevant to the campus while also broadening its scope. “I think it’s important we acknowledge that people at Sewanee want to do service in their own communities,” she said.
The club already has about 30 members right now, and they are encouraging anyone interested to join. Odoms said, “we want people of different ethnic backgrounds, including white allies, to join… It’s a diverse space where anyone can feel comfortable and welcomed to participate and run for positions.”
Interested students should contact Johnson, Odoms, or Stricklen, and they are encouraged to learn more about the NAACP on the organization’s website. Johnson hopes people with different interests and backgrounds will join, saying, “unity is strength. The more numbers we have, the more feasible it is for us to solve problems.”