The hiring of Dr. Benjamin Chavis to head the NAACP was a "master stroke of hope" for the cities of this country, according to those who have worked closely with Chavis on urban issues. "Under the leadership of Dr. Chavis, [the NAACP] will be focused on the people most in pain and suffering in urban settings in our society," said Carl Upchurch, the director of the Granville, Ohio-based Council for Urban Peace and Justice. Upchurch, a prime mover behind this spring's Gang Summit, told Sojourners, "People who work closely with urban America are elated at the prospect" of Chavis' leadership. Fred Williams, a former gang member who now operates a program helping them, told the LA Times that Chavis "has been in the trenches for a long time. There is something inside him that drives him to stay connected to the roots."
The selection of Chavis promises to bring new life and a new direction to the NAACP, the oldest civil rights group in the country. Chavis said the organization is "more needed now than ever before," and that he will give high priority to young people in urban centers. "I want them to understand that we're interested in empowerment and education," Chavis told The New York Times.
Chavis, a Sojourners contributing editor, has been at the forefront of the environmental justice movement, and as head of the United Church of Christ's Commission for Racial Justice helped shepherd a major study and campaign on toxic dumping in minority neighborhoods.
Jim Rice is editor of Sojourners. Brigitte Kerpsack and Jeff Shriver assisted with research.