Brown Leads New Generation of Freedom Fighters
Stefanie Brown formed a special bond with the NAACP 10 years ago. At age 15, the Bedford Heights, Ohio, native excelled quickly as a member of a youth council chapter in Cleveland. (She was elected president, too.) In between studies in business management at Howard University, she was active in the college chapter. Two years ago, she was developing youth programs as the National Youth Council coordinator. So it’s no surprise that in her newest position as National Director of the NAACP Youth and College Division, Brown feels right at home.
“I grew up in the association. I was introduced to it through church,” says Brown, 25, who took the reins as director in March. “God put it in my heart to work for the betterment of Black people. It’s been a never-ending passion.”
Fueling her passion today is the desire to see more young people like herself in the trenches, advocating for the issues that hit African Americans the hardest, including a poor educational system, continuing housing discrimination and health disparities. She also hopes to help change the negative perception America has of young Blacks.
Brown’s main responsibility will include overseeing the 300 youth councils and 100 college chapters in the association. The Youth and College Division, which was established 70 years ago, has an estimated 30,000 active members. Brown wants to encourage these new “freedom fighters” and move young people into action, as she has done in past jobs.
For example, Brown says she urged young people to take on domestic and Social Security issues as head of the Black Student Justice Network. She created the group when she was a coordinator for Global Justice, Inc., a nonprofit organization that supports student-led advocacy campaigns in Washington, D.C. Before that, the Antioch Development Corporation, a church-based community development group, hired Brown to establish an HIV/STD prevention program geared toward Black and Latino teens.
“Her experience, vision and plan made her the ideal choice,” says the Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, the NAACP’s chief operating officer, who says Brown was picked during an extensive search among more than 100 applicants. “The youth and college group is the fastest growing part of our membership. Under her leadership, it will grow exponentially.”
In her new position, Brown plans to create a leadership-training institute to teach young people how to become effective activists, re-energize the Phoenix Project (started to assist young people in juvenile detention facilities), establish NAACP youth units in juvenile detention centers and work with other youth organizations on projects to attract new members. Brown also hopes to end the perception some have of the NAACP as an outdated organization.
“We don’t do enough work in promoting what we do,” says Brown. “We are the organization that has been around for almost 100 years now, but we are very relevant today because the issues we had then continue to exist today.”
Brown is ready to rally a new generation of activists, and says her job is to show young people what the NAACP is doing. Only then will they consider jumping on board, she says.
“It’s an urgent time for young Black people,” Brown emphasizes. “We need to take the banner and embrace it. If we don’t, who will?”
– Stacy Gilliam
Copyright Crisis Publishing Company, Incorporated May/Jun 2006
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