Tag Archive | "NAACP"

Booth Balances Social Justice with Social Grace

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By Marissa Maier

As a child, Gini Booth effortlessly tread between two disparate worlds. By day, Booth could be found on the streets of New York City and its environs protesting racial prejudices and socioeconomic injustices with her father, Judge William Henry Booth, an African-American New York City Criminal Court Judge and Chairman of the city’s Commission on Human Rights. In the evening, Booth’s mother, Harriet Walker Booth, whisked her young daughter to debutante balls in the gilded halls of the Waldorf Astoria.

Above: Booth’s father, Judge William Henry Booth, to the right of Martin Luther King, Jr. during a rally.

Booth’s early balance between social justice and social graces served her well later in life as an actress, news producer, literacy advocate and breast cancer survivor. Her early life, and the lessons Booth’s parents taught her at a tender age, will be the subject of a talk at the Bridgehampton Child Care and Recreational Center on Thursday, February 25, as part of “Straight Talk: A series of community conversations.”

During her talk, Booth will highlight the convictions of her parents and how these beliefs influenced her upbringing and affected her as an adult. With a father who represented Malcolm X at one point and marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., Booth has one or two stories to tell about fighting for civil rights in New York City at a young age. During one rally, in support of a hospital union in Riverdale, Booth saw a police officer attempt to push her father along to move with the crowd. To the 13-year-old Booth, the cop seemed more like a six-foot giant dressed in blue than an officer of the law keeping order.

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“I went up to him and I tried to beat him up. I said, ‘Don’t you dare hit my father,’” recalled Booth. “No one had told me it was supposed to be a peaceful protest.”

After spending many childhood afternoons in her father’s office, Booth would later follow in his footsteps. As a teenager, William Booth served as President of the NAACP Youth Council in Jamaica, Queens. Years later, Booth was appointed Secretary of the Treasury of the same council.

After years of practicing law and setting up strong roots in the Episcopal faith, William Booth’s calm and forgiving approach to life helped his daughter in her struggles with issues of race and ethnicity. Though Booth’s parents are of African-American descent, she was born with blue eyes and blond hair — characteristics typical of Caucasians. As Booth was maturing into a young woman, she recalls several instances when she would be walking down the street with her father and a passerby would yell some racially derogatory comment.

“Someone started screaming at my father, ‘Who is that little white girl with you?’ The man said, ‘Was she dipped in Clorox?’ It was very hurtful. But my father said to just ignore him and that he doesn’t know any better,” remembered Booth. “And then I thought of something my father’s mother had taught me. She said ‘A garden is beautiful and in the garden are all different types of flowers of all shapes and sizes. But it is all one garden.’ At least I had the strength and the substance every day when I left that house with my parents.”

After growing up in Queens, Booth flew the coop to study acting at the University of California at Los Angeles. She returned to New York and joined the Negro Ensemble Company Actors Workshop, Frank Silvera’s Actors Studio and New Heritage Theater. Later, Booth relocated to Providence, Rhode Island for a career change in news broadcasting and producing. She created a talk show, named SHADES, on the local PBS channel and “Black News,” which was on the CBS radio affiliate for the state. Because Booth was a member of the National Black Programming Consortium, her television work was broadcast throughout the US, in Africa and the Caribbean.

Currently, Booth’s myriad projects include an affiliation with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Suffolk County Executive’s African American Advisory Board, the Vestry of Christ Episcopal Church, ERASE Racism, the Witness Project LI and EVIDENCE Dance Company.

As a 21-year survivor of stage three breast cancer, Booth’s work has spilled over into cancer advocacy. She is affiliated with CancerCare of the Hamptons and the American Cancer Society. Booth’s work and life has been featured in many television shows and publications, including “Good Morning America,” “Good Day NY,” Town and Country Magazine and Family Circle Magazine.

Though Booth is ringing in her 60th year of life in 2010, she shows no signs of slowing down. She currently serves as the executive director of Literacy Suffolk. Literacy, says Booth, is often seen as a non-issue in the 21st century, but she pointed out that close to one in every seven adults in Suffolk County are functionally illiterate.

“I am wondering what I am going to be doing in 20 years,” exclaimed Booth. “I can only imagine. I can’t wait.”

NAACP Gives Local Parents a “Lift”

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Parents today lead increasingly busy and stressful lives. Between working one or more jobs while shuttling children to school and events, parents have little time to themselves and may find it easier to plop their tots in front of a television or a toy when they are together. Although both can be used for educational purposes, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Eastern Long Island Chapter is introducing a new program called “Lifted” to help parents take a more active role — not only in their children’s lives, but in their early education as well.

According to the NAACP’s Eastern Long Island Chapter secretary Georgette Grier-Key, “Lifted: A parent leadership academy” is a pilot program sponsored by the organization which is starting in Bridgehampton.

Since October, the NAACP has hosted seminars at the Children’s Museum of the East End on the Bridgehampton Turnpike. The second class in the five-course series was held on Saturday, November 21. The “Lifted” program, explained Grier-Key at Saturday’s meeting, is meant to help parents navigate the educational system and to offer strategies for parents to continue educating their children at home.

“Parents are the best teachers for their children,” noted Nancy Moloney who teaches pre-kindergarten at the Bridgehampton School. “I have taught Bridgehampton kids for 26 years and … I realized that I have to reach out and become partners with parents [in their children's education].”

At Saturday’s class, Moloney was joined by colleague and pre-k teacher Jackie Poole and the Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Dianne Youngblood. The group led a course on the pre-kindergarten through second grade curriculum at the school and presented ways parents could enhance their children’s academic experience.

Because the seminar was focused on younger students, the presentation emphasized the importance of developing language skills. Moloney suggested parents point out different objects in the home and ask the children to name the items. She added that parents should ask questions that require more than a yes or no answer, like “Tell me about the story the teacher read today” or “What are you going to do tomorrow?” Although the questions might appear simple, noted Moloney, they go a long way in helping the young students become literate and conversational beings.

Pre-k teacher Poole made a number of different recommendations for parents with young children. She emphasized creating a routine for kids. Poole recommended parents print out a schedule for the day which shows the clock and the name of the activity. She pointed out this will help children learn how to read a clock and keep track of time. At nighttime, Poole said playing classical music will help lull a child to sleep. For the youngster having difficulty holding a writing instrument, she suggested making the child play with Play Doh. The pliable material, explained Poole, strengthens hands and gives the student a better grip. After purchasing a new toy, Poole encourages parents to sit down and teach their child how to play with it.

“As parents, we can’t just tell children how to do things. We have to model things. Never make assumptions about what your child knows,” noted Poole, who added that play can be a great way to develop language.

Dr. Youngblood noted that parents must act as models as well and make a concerted effort to keep their children intellectually stimulated and challenged. For those parents who tend to preoccupy their children with television, Dr. Youngblood said, “we sometimes gravitate towards the easy babysitter [of the television]. Let’s be mindful of not looking for the easy way out. Children need language.” Dr. Youngblood added that if children see their parents reading around the house they are more likely to be interested in learning to read. She also suggested that parents help their child pen letters to relatives or characters like Santa Claus.

Near the end of the meeting, the educators leading the course noted that children who develop these skills at home will have an easier time grasping academic concepts in school.

“Those who come to school with a lot of words, reading is easier for them,” said Dr. Youngblood, giving an example of this theory.

Although the “Lifted” program benefits parents and children, Grier-Key said the program was still having difficulty maintaining consistent parent attendance. On Saturday, only two parents attended the course although several parents came to a previous session in October.

“I wish we had more parents. This information needs to be shared,” remarked Grier-Key.

“Lifted” will host a course on the “No Child Left Behind” program on Saturday, December 19, at the Children’s Museum of the East End, 376 Sag Harbor/Bridgehampton Turnpike. For more information call 537-8250.

Bill Pickens

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The National Association for the Advancement of Colored Peopled [NAACP] celebrated its 100th anniversary this month. This week, The Express sat down with Sag Harbor resident Bill Pickens, whose grandfather Professor William Pickens helped establish the NAACP as a far-reaching national organization for racial equality in the United States. In 1941, Bill Pickens joined the organization, becoming a life member at five-years-old. Pickens helps carry on the work of his grandfather and served on the board of the NAACP for seven years. 


For our readers who aren’t familiar with the NAACP [The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], what is the mission of the organization? 

The NAACP’s mission is to take the American political and economic landscape and make it available to all, especially for African Americans who are left bereft in this American economic miracle. While the NAACP is for colored people, there are lots of people of color in this world. It has a broader context then just the Americans. W.E.B. DuBois [a co-founder of the NAACP] was a Pan-Africanist. He saw early on that the world was much larger in its coloration than just the 48 U.S. states [at the time the NAACP was founded in 1909]. He looked beyond America to find a definition of the word colored people.

The NAACP is a membership organization. It was founded as a membership organization to attract people, bring them together to organize. My grandfather [Professor William Pickens, former NAACP Director of Branches and Field Secretary] said the NAACP isn’t like mosquitoes, but like hornets. When hornets attack, they attack you in mass. He felt we weren’t going to get anywhere if we were disorganized. He said that we had to be get organized and have a mission. So far, I think it has worked, but perhaps not as well as the founders had hoped.

The founding members were made up of white philanthropists, we had Jewish membership, and they came together with DuBois to look at this with a forward looking perspective. There were tensions in the founding [of the NAACP], they still had to have the whites and blacks agree on what the mission of the organization was. Even in its founding, the had to go forward in a united fashion.


What has been the NAACP’s impact on the country?

The NAACP was instrumental in changing how America works as a democracy. The NAACP was made up of white and black intellectuals and agitators, who asked themselves ‘how are we going to make America better and not bitter?’ The NAACP helped change the laws. The laws that were against black people were changed in the supreme court and appellate courts, but they affected Americans around the country. The NAACP helped give white women the opportunity to vote and helped provide equal opportunity for the Chinese and Mexican [American communities].

There used to be a terrible voting prohibition, what was called a poll tax. Poor black Americans were asked to pay a fee to vote in the South and if you didn’t have the money you couldn’t vote. All of these barriers were put and the courts upheld them. The NAACP fought for this and won.

Then you had lynching. My grandfather testified before Congress in 1920 trying to get anti-lynching laws passed, but [political officials] from Mississippi opposed them because they were pro-lynching, and you knew this by their actions. The NAACP fought them tooth and nail with little money, but the anti-lynching bill was passed [in 1922].


Even though the NAACP has been working for 100 years to create racial equality in America, do you feel racial incidents, that hark back to former generations, still take place?

The United States of America still isn’t united. We have incidents like what happened in Philadelphia [at the Valley Swim Club] recently. It was a private white swimming club and a group of black children contracted to use the pool. When the kids came and jumped in the pool, people complained it changed the “complexion” of the pool. They asked the children to leave. This is Philadelphia, the cradle of the North. This is 2009. This reminded me of when my grandfather was on a ship bound to Europe [in the early 20th century]. When he got into the pool [on the ship] he said all the white people jumped out. Whom did they harm? he said. Themselves. That is how pernicious prejudice was. They bothered themselves so much with their prejudice that they denied themselves the pleasure of swimming. They didn’t realize that my grandfather was a Yale scholar and spoke six to seven languages.

This is 2009 and we have made progress, but we have made inevitable progress. We aren’t anywhere near where we ought to be. There is still mistrust between law enforcement and black men and that is a history that isn’t very comforting or reassuring. These are issues that need to be addressed very deeply. It is a sad commentary when something like the Philadelphia incident makes headlines.


The NAACP recently celebrated its 100th anniversary in New York City two weeks ago and President Obama spoke at the event. What did the president speak about?

President Obama talked about America and said there is still work to be done, especially in employing young black men. He told them to look at their familial responsibilities and their role as protector. He was positive and hopeful and his speech resonated well with the audience.


What was your grandfather’s role in the organization?

My grandfather was 28-years-old [when he joined]. He was an orator of the first rank, and the NAACP needed a young guy to go out and sell the organization to the country. He went all across the country extolling the virtues of the NAACP and he organized the opening of more branches than anyone else [in the history of the NAACP]. I think they recognized that he was a talented young man. He was raised in Arkansas, but went on to Yale, and he felt the full whip of prejudice. He saw it in action every day and he could articulate the message of the NAACP to everyone . . . to churchgoing African American women. For 22 years he worked for the NAACP . . . as the director of branches and [later] as the field secretary.

The NAACP is a family heritage and a continuous family responsibility. My grandfather’s daughter Harriet was a life long member. My children are junior life members . . . and I have been a life member since I was five-years-old in 1941.


Did your grandfather expect to see a black president elected in his lifetime? Did you expect to see a black president elected in your lifetime?

In 1931, my grandfather gave a speech and said that over time we could expect a black man in the White House. It was obviously 1931 and it was a wildly hopeful thing to say, but it showed how much faith he had in America. As he saw the sweep of history, he could see what was happening . . . He always said to my father that the premise and the promise of America would have to meet someday. The premise had to catch up with the promise, one of the promises is that you can have an African American in the white house. It is an alignment that makes America work.

I was dubious that I would see it in my lifetime given the track record of my own life experiences. I am almost 73-years-old and I felt time was running out for me. I supported Obama wholeheartedly from the beginning, even though I was in general a fan of the Clintons, but I saw this as an opportunity. I was an earnest supporter from day one, but I never went to bed saying that he was going to be president, even on Election Day.


At a press conference held at the White House on July 22, President Obama was asked what the recent arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. said about race relations in the country. Do you feel race played a role in his arrest?

I don’t believe it played a central role, but I think it played a strong peripheral role. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. [or "Skip"] is a friend of mine. I have known him for 35 years. He grew up in West Virginia, where the relationship with police isn’t very strong. I think that planted a seed of this kind of relationship not working out. Then he becomes an African American scholar and he begins to see this as a national problem. [On the day of the arrest] he had flown fifteen hours from China to Boston, so he was jet lagged and he is a little guy. He had a cane and a bad hip. He doesn’t have the keys to his home and he is frustrated and annoyed, but he gets into his house. Some one reports a burglary, which is fine [and understandable], when he gets into his house the cop shows up with his gun and his badge, and Skip is tired, annoyed. They exchange words that three or four days later are regrettable but understandable, given the known relationship between white police and African Americans. I have never heard a curse word out of that guy’s mouth. He is a scholar and a humanist, and the fact that this becomes an enormous story is regrettable.

I think the historic relationship has been lousy and in those three minutes, the police are in his home and he asks them to get out and then the guy cuffs him, which seems like a mistake to me. They put cuffs on him on his own porch.

I heard one guy say, can you imagine Henry Kissinger being arrested like that, but you kind of have to turn this thing on its head. A lot of black men were arrested on the same day, but it doesn’t make the front page. I, like the president, believe that doesn’t excuse bad behavior; but I think the context makes it more understandable.


Obviously, the racial climate was extremely different when your grandfather worked with the organization. What are the goals and focus of the NAACP today?

There are still too many black and Hispanic men in prison. We need to look at the criminal justice system and see if the severe penalties are justified. We need to look at the disproportionate numbers of unemployment for black people, some of whom have already gone to college. We need to help them stay focused, grow and prosper. There still has to be a focus on the question of how drugs come into our communities. Who are the movers and shakers for the drug business? And how does that happen and how do we put a stop to it.

Mikele Stanfield

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The Bridgehampton student and NAACP dramatics award winner on making a monologue her own, preparing for an emotional role and hoping to make it to Hollywood.


So what was the competition like?

It was pretty stiff. I had to go into a room with three judges who are teachers and professional judges and had to do my monologue. I chose Hell and High Water from the Katrina Project [written by Michael Marks and Mackenzie Westmoreland]. Another girl had done the exact same monologue before me; but when she did it, it was like she was reading out of a book.


How did you make your performance stand out?

I added lines to the monologue about how my own family was left alone in their homes [in New Orleans] for three days with no food and no water. I think adding lines helped me embrace the character. When I just read it normally people liked it, but it wasn’t as personal. When you read lines it just feels like you are reciting something; but when you get into your character it actually touches people.


What was the monologue about and why did you choose it?

It was about Katrina and how Bush didn’t do anything. It’s about how people were dying in the Superdome. I chose it because I did have family down there. I did have a great aunt who died. I was tearing up when I did the monologue. I think they saw how into it I was and how furious I was about what had happened.


How did you prepare for the piece?

I worked every day with my coach Jacqui Leder. She would come to the school and help me for two periods every day. The when I got home I would practice for another two hours. I had my friends help me rehearse and my mom would read me lines. I only had a week to learn the monologue but I think the shorter amount of time was actually better for me. Some of the kids at the competition had been doing the same monologue for two years. I did the monologue the way I felt it, instead of changing things about it. I did it free handed. During the audition I kicked off my shoes, but I didn’t think ‘oh now I am going to do this and then I am going to transition into this.’ I also did a lot of research. I asked people their perspective on what happened. I was born in the South, so when I was acting my down South voice came out.


How do you approach acting?

I don’t want to be stiff. I don’t want to seem over dramatic. My judges gave me a critique sheet and said that I move my body and paused in between my sentences perfectly. This is my first year in the competition, but I think I brought it.


What kind of reaction did you get being a sixteen-year-old girl who took on such an emotional role?

After I performed it for the judges, I went outside and a parent in the hallway asked me how old I was. When I said I was sixteen, they were like ‘are you serious? I have never seen someone go into character like you did.’ When I did it for the judges, their mouths were open by the end. One woman told me that she couldn’t believe that had come from me.


Which award did you end up winning?

I got the bronze in dramatics. I get to go to nationals, though I can’t compete, on July 8 and get to see how it is and take some workshops. I am taking one workshop called “Better Yourself” and it’s kind of like a meditation. They make you stop and think about your characters and how you will pursue them and what is the impact on you.


Are you going to compete next year?

Yeah I think I am going to do more categories. I am going to do a contemporary piece on my saxophone and do a little poetry. I write my own poetry.


Who has been helping you along the way?

The Bridgehampton Day Care center, especially Bonnie Cannon. She drove me up to the competition. The First Church of God in Bridgehampton and even people at Bridgehampton High School.


Could you recite a little bit from your favorite part of the monologue?

“How can my family be left alone with no food, no water, no help” and the last part “I bet if Bin Laden had attacked us then Dubbya would have showed up.”


It seems you have been bitten by the acting bug. Any plans to be an actress?

Yeah I think that is what I am going to do. My mom always said ‘You are going to take me to Hollywood.’