The NAACP has named Alameda resident Benjamin Jealous as its president, making the Rhodes scholar and former newspaper executive the youngest president in the 99-year history of the nation's largest civil rights organization.
"As somebody raising a 2½-year-old black child in this country, and having enjoyed as many blessings and privileges as my wife and I have, it's still deeply troubling that we have to worry about how she might be treated in school or by the police," the Columbia and Oxford University-educated Jealous said.
Jealous, 35, lives in Alameda with his wife, Lia Epperson, a professor of constitutional law at Santa Clara University, and daughter, Morgan.
"As parents, " Jealous said, "we want the best treatment for our child, without discrimination against any aspect of her life. That's what drives me."
Jealous, who grew up in Monterey County, is the 17th president since the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909 in response to a wave of deadly attacks on blacks in Springfield, Ill, known as the Springfield Race Riot.
Jealous began his professional life in 1991 with the NAACP, where he worked as a community organizer with the Legal Defense Fund working on issues of health care access in Harlem. His family boasts five generations of NAACP membership.
Jealous said his grandmother, Mamie Todd, has been active with the NAACP for decades. His mother, Ann Todd Jealous, was one of the first 10 students to integrate a Baltimore high school 50 years ago. His father, Fred Jealous, has been a civil rights activist since his own high school days.
The 34-21 Saturday vote in his favor ran counter to the NAACP's tradition of tapping politicians and ministers to lead.
Jealous headed the country's largest group of black community newspapers, National Newspaper Publishers Association, and was director of Amnesty International's U.S. Human Rights Program.
He now is president of The Rosenberg Foundation, a grant-making organization that provides economic support to working people in California.
But as a young black activist, Jealous is poised to attract young African Americans who have criticized the NAACP for being out of step with people who still face racial discrimination after the demise of legalized segregation.
"I am tremendously excited. It's a real chance to get my generation of people — those from 25 to 45 years old — really engaged in the work of this association, and to get this association really engaged in the issues of this century," Jealous said. "This is an historic time and the association is needed, now as much as ever."
Ann Todd Jealous said her son has been on a path of working for fairness and justice since he was very young.
"There is a great deal of work that still needs to be done. This is a tremendous opportunity to do that work."
The school she integrated was Western High School, in Baltimore, an all-girls, white-only private institution.
Lia Epperson, Ben's wife, also worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and is a civil rights attorney.
Other civil rights leaders praised the appointment of Jealous.
"The NAACP snagging Ben Jealous is the organization's biggest coup in at least a generation - possibly two or three ," said Van Jones, founder of the Oakland-based social rights organization Ella Baker Center, who has known Jealous since he was in college. " Ben has the smarts, hustle, talent and savvy to completely redefine the organization and bring it fully into the 21st Century. "
The vote followed a contentious eight-hour debate that lasted into the night, according to media reports.
NAACP board members told CNN that no one clapped or celebrated after the meeting at the Baltimore, Md. headquarters.
Jealous was the only finalist for the post which has been vacant since his predecessor Bruce Gordon, a retired Verizon executive, quit in March 2007, citing clashes with board members over management style and the NAACP's mission.
Board member Wendell Anthony, who was part of the NAACP's national search committee, said that while Jealous is "very capable and possesses a great deal of potential," he favored another candidate. Jealous "was not my first choice," said Anthony in the statement prepared by the NAACP's Detroit office, which is the largest among the organization's hundreds of branches.
Jealous steps into the leadership role just months after the NAACP was forced to lay off a third of its staff because of ongoing budget shortfalls, according to the Washington Post. Backers of Jealous said he is capable of pulling the organization out of years of dwindling corporate donations and membership, which is still at World War II levels.
"First of all, I think Ben was certainly highly qualified for the position, and I think that's been borne out by the fact that the national board saw him as the best candidate," said Mel Mason, former president of the Monterey chapter of the NAACP.
"Ben is going to be a great inspiration and role model for the youth of our community, not just African-Americans, but all Americans in our younger generation," Mason said. "He's going to breathe new life into the NAACP."
MediaNews staff writer Dennis Taylor and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
Staff writer Angela Woodall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 510-208-6413.