Keeping It Right

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

San Francisco Chronicle: Next Wave of Black Leaders Finds Fresh Voice

San Francisco Chronicle: Next wave of black leaders finds fresh voice

The Bay Area's Benjamin Jealous, who will become the youngest president in the history of the NAACP when he takes office in September, embodies a shift in the country's African American leadership.

African American leaders have typically ascended out of the church and the civil rights movement, while younger activists outside of those traditional paths have struggled to find success.

The times, they are a-changin'. The selection this month of Jealous, the 35-year-old Alameda resident and San Francisco foundation director, to lead the nation's oldest civil rights group underscores the dramatic nature of the change.

"There's been a real split, a generational split between people of my generation and the civil rights generation," said Van Jones, 39, an Oakland activist who founded or co-founded the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Green For All. "This is the first step toward real healing."

Jones, as well as co-founder James Rucker of San Francisco, are seen as part of the vanguard of the "hip-hop" generation. has, in three years, emerged as a powerful online coalition that has galvanized the black community's attention on particular issues, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the controversial prosecution of six black youths in Jena, La.

"There are folks who believe that to be a civil rights leader, you have to have strong ties to the church," said Rucker, 38. "I just don't think that is in touch with where things are today."

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