willie-l-lawson-iii_web.jpgPOMPANO BEACH — Leaders of the North Broward NAACP branch said this week that they are forming a new civil rights group after the parent organization merged their division with another branch without their permission.

“Actually, they have been trying to take over the North Broward branch for years,” said Willie L. Lawson III, president of the former North Broward NAACP branch. “We are working on forming a new organization, separate from the NAACP, because they are not telling us anything, and we have cases pending.”

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He continued: “This was not a takeover. It is more like a mess over.”

Lawson said he and other members of the branch’s leadership have held several meetings, and if they do not get clarification from the national organization, they will go forward with plans for the new organization, which they will call the New Alliance.

“We have already begun the process,” Lawson said. “The NAACP is doing the same thing to us that they fought, and criticized other corporations around the country for doing, which is not following the bylaws or due process.”

Lawson said the new organization will champion the same causes and function in a similar way to the NAACP. However, it will have different processes that organizers say will allow them to better utilize today’s technological advances.

Lawson said the new organization will take discrimination complaints on its website, and will include email addresses of executive officers there.

That way, he said, the group can be more reflective of the current racial and social climate.

Despite repeated calls from the South Florida Times to the organization’s national headquarters and media relations agents, no one from the NAACP has responded to questions or emails about the process, or what led to the decision on the merger and consequential dissolution of the North Broward branch.

Erika Lewis of the NAACP’s communications department sent an email to the newspaper on Jan. 29, stating that she is the contact person on the issue.  However, she has not responded to calls or emails seeking comment.

After more than 30 years of taking up the causes of people who endured discrimination and suffered through racial inequities in both the northern portion of Broward County and the southern end of Palm Beach County, the North Broward NAACP branch was quietly absorbed into its Fort Lauderdale counterpart last year.

So quiet was the merger that neither Lawson, the members of the branch, nor any of the other branch leaders were aware it had taken place.

“It’s not fair what they [NAACP] have done to us. We need a branch in North Broward, and they did not, and have not told us anything,” said Patricia “Pat” Williams-Thompson, a current North Broward branch NAACP board member, and a former president and vice president of the group.

“We have the membership and we are more active than Fort Lauderdale, so why would they close our branch?” she asked.

The North Broward NAACP has been merged with the Fort Lauderdale NAACP. The two branches now form one organization that is called the Fort Lauderdale/Broward Branch NAACP.

“The North Broward Branch was merged into the Fort Lauderdale Branch by the National Board of Directors during its July 2009 board meeting,” Marsha A. Ellison, president of the Fort Lauderdale/Broward Branch NAACP, said in an email to the South Florida Times.

Ellison, who was president of the organization’s former Fort Lauderdale branch, is also treasurer of the Florida statewide NAACP organization.

“There is now only one Branch chartered to serve Broward County (Fort Lauderdale/Broward Branch NAACP),’’ Ellison stated. “There have been no changes to office location or current administration.”

The organization that is largely responsible for ending segregation in the United States has struggled to remain relevant in an era that witnessed the election of the country’s first black president. Membership around the country has fallen in recent years.

In Broward, while the merger of the two branches has produced a new name, other issues such as the status of officers of the North Broward branch, meeting places, memberships, pending cases, and office locations have yet to be resolved.

Delores Bullard, 58, was one of the founding members of the North Broward branch in 1980.  It received its full charter in 1983. Bullard served as president for several years. The branch was based in Pompano Beach, where Bullard still operates a beauty salon.

Bullard was also Pompano Beach’s first black female police officer.

She said she disagrees with Lawson and Williams-Thompson, stating that the merger can be a good thing, providing everyone works together.

“This is not such a big county, so having all the branches working together can be great,” Bullard said. “Of course, they should have been told, and allowed to participate in the process, and that needs to be cleared up.  But they can pool their resources and do more for more people.”

Lawson disagreed.

“Fort Lauderdale has not been seen in North Broward or anywhere else, and people have issues,’’ Lawson said. “We have not heard from Fort Lauderdale, or the national, so how can we work together?”

Lawson said his branch has money in the bank, and members who have been renewing their memberships with the branch. He said the national NAACP headquarters has provided no communication about how to proceed.

“If they made a mistake, they should admit it.  But if we don’t hear anything, we will form the New Alliance and keep fighting for people,” Lawson said. “We have to get legal advice on what to do with the money, and if we have to stop calling ourselves the NAACP, until they send us a formal notice, but we can’t sit around and do nothing while the national ignores us.”


Photo by Elgin Jones/SFT Staff. Willie L. Lawson III