The president of the Alexandria chapter of the NAACP sees an opportunity to “change the course” of the branch by reenergizing its members, bringing more young adults into the fold and staying engaged.
John Chapman said his journey with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People began several years ago when he reached out to the branch seeking involvement “but nobody reached back.”
He was not deterred.
“I saw it as an opportunity for change… I wanted to make sure that everyone was included,” he told Alexandria Patch editors in an interview at Buzz Bakery and Café.
After his first unsuccessful run to become a part of the Alexandria NAACP, Chapman got involved with a young Democrats group and the Virginia Urban League.
When Rev. Lee Earl, who was president of the local NAACP, stepped down due to health reasons “I decided to jump out there. Young adults need this branch to be more engaging because nobody engaged me,” Chapman said.
After convincing some of the older members of the chapter that even a youngster could handle this leadership role, “they voted for me,” said Chapman, 30.
In November 2010 he was elected president and was installed in January. At the end of his two-year term, Chapman hopes the group membership will grow to 1,500. Its membership currently is made up of 384 adults and 26 youths and is open to anyone who supports the group's goals, with a $30 membership fee.
“You always have a core group of folks who do 80 percent of the work in almost any group, but in terms of younger people, it seemed they didn’t know what to do with them” before he came on board.
If Chapman has anything to do with it, you can expect to see them taking a more active role in local budget discussions through City Council.
The group has plans to cultivate a greater presence in front of the School Board and council. Chapman also wants to see more minorities on city boards and commissions.
“We’re not trying to start marches on City Hall. We’re going to be working on making things,” he said. “In the near future you might see us get in there about not increasing certain taxes. We’re going to be a lot more vocal. The city has done a good job, but the city can always be better.”
With a population of about 140,000, the City of Alexandria is about 61 percent white, 22 percent black and 16 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
Alexandria is and has been Chapman’s home. He grew up at 823 Patrick Street and moved into the Quaker Hill public housing community. In 10th grade he lived in a shelter for about six months while his mother, Michele, saved money to buy a house.
She succeeded, and they moved into the Taylor Run neighborhood.
His mother also used to sit on the board with community activist Ruby Tucker, who he remembers with respect.
“She seemed like a force of nature. She was opinionated and engaged and she wasn’t afraid to engage other people,” he said. “That was a different time with different people… who made sure everything was OK.”
Both he and his sister attended St. Stephens and St. Agnes School through the help of a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that places low income students in area private schools and covers the tuition.
A Keen Eye on Education
As president, Chapman said one of the Alexandria NAACP’s top issues is education. “We’re trying to foster a positive relationship with [Alexandria City Public Schools] by looking at how a community organization like ours can support the system.
“Growing up I heard horror stories about students and families and their relationship with ACPS,” he said. “Parents were often complaining about not connecting with school officials. We still hear rumblings of that from time to time and we want to make sure… there is communications with parents. A lot of times people just don’t know who to go talk to.”
Chapman says he feels well equipped to understand the school-family relationship from his “day job” as a school administrator for Edgar Allen Poe Middle School in Fairfax County.
Better Health Awareness
“There is a disconnect in terms of education about public health programs and opportunities for free or reduced medicines as well as basic public knowledge about how to take care of yourself, especially as you get older,” Chapman said. “There are a lot of health problems in the black community.”
The group recently held a healthy living seminar for seniors across the city.
The Alexandria NAACP plans to host a voter empowerment workshop that will focus on voters in public housing.
Although Chapman is a self-described Democrat, the group is open to all parties, he reiterated.
“A lot of Republicans think that the African-American community is closed off to them but that’s definitely not the case,” he said. “If they speak to our issues, we’re for them.”
One in a continuing series on how local residents are pursuing their version of the American Dream.