NAACP President Highlights Desire for Equality in West Virginia University at Parkersburg Discussion | News, Sports, Jobs


A rally was held Wednesday at the WVU-Parkersburg Center for Civic Engagement and Innovation on Market Street in downtown Parkersburg where people watched a Facebook Live chat with Derrick Johnson, CEO and President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Johnson discussed the importance of equity and inclusion, voting rights, and other issues facing minority populations. (Photo by Brett Dunlap)

PARKERSBURG — The president of the NAACP spoke about people’s desire to live in a more equal society during a discussion with an official from the University of West Virginia at Parkersburg.

Derrick Johnson, CEO and President of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, participated in a Facebook Live chat with Steven Smith, President of the WVU-P Opening Pathways to Equity Now (OPEN) project.

Smith and Johnson chatted virtually on Facebook about the historical outlook and what the NAACP is doing. He also discussed the importance of equity and inclusion, voting rights and other issues faced by minority populations.

A group of about eight people watched the discussion at WVU-P’s Center for Civic Engagement and Innovation on Market Street in downtown Parkersburg and others from the university sat and watched the discussion held as part of Black History Month.

Johnson opened up about growing up in Detroit, Michigan, and the number of families that ended up there looking for opportunity.

Many people’s parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were among the working poor who worked in coal mines or harvested crops, both of which were exploitative, Johnson said. People started migrating to places like Detroit in search of better opportunities and jobs. Many ended up in the automotive industry because it offered them the best opportunity, he added.

Johnson has talked about going to college and possibly law school. He had people who helped him establish a framework to follow, which led to him majoring in political science in college as part of pre-law. He went to law school in Texas, which eventually led to his involvement with the NAACP there and later in Mississippi.

“It’s about having a voice and using your voice to try to create more equity and opportunity for your neighbours,” says Johnson. “In the NAACP, our neighbors are not just black communities, but all communities that have been abused.”

Johnson said it was about opening up opportunities.

Inequality manifests in race and tribalism and through economic means to divide people into haves and have-nots, he said.

“These false arguments are used to divide people and distract them from the underlying issue of inequality,” says Johnson. “Those with wealth seek to play off communities against each other so that those communities are not focused on creating a more equal society.”

He spoke of how people were exploited in mining, manufacturing, and agricultural work as a form of cheap labor. By organizing in the auto industry, people have been able to advance issues of creating a more equal society with opportunities for all.

Part of the reason West Virginia split from Virginia during the Civil War was because people thought they were being exploited by Virginia’s rulers as a form of cheap labor.

The NAACP began as a multiracial group. Many people who are considered white today were not considered white in the past, including Catholics, Irish, Italians, Jews and others who experience discrimination.

“If you were not an Anglo-Saxon Protestant man, you had no voice or position”, says Johnson.

He talked about how black soldiers joined the Union Army and helped win the Civil War.

“We have one United States, not two separate countries”, says Johnson. “We have a system in the hope that we can all aspire to a better quality of life and not be exploited as a source of cheap labour.”

WVU-P President Chris Gilmer spoke at Tuesday’s Parkersburg City Council meeting about Wednesday’s event and other initiatives to promote diversity in the college.

“Equity and inclusion for all is a fundamental commitment we have at WVU Parkersburg,” said Gilmer, who was invited to Tuesday’s meeting by Councilman Wendy Tuck.

Gilmer, who previously served at historically black colleges and universities and a federally-designated Hispanic-serving institution, said there are a variety of ways to be diverse.

“For example, I am a first generation student”, he said, while noting the school’s work to support veterans and help students graduate with as little debt as possible, thereby making a college education more accessible to people from different economic backgrounds. .

Also at the meeting’s public forum, Parkersburg resident Jennifer Bryant said the city recognizes a variety of awareness months, all of which are worthwhile, but there was no resolution or proclamation. formal this year celebrating Black History Month. She cited the presence of the former Sumner School, the first free school for black children south of the Mason-Dixon line.

“Black History Month should also be included,” says Bryant. “And we’re negligent that we haven’t done that this year.”

Mayor Tom Joyce said a group typically requests recognition of specific days or months and has not received such a request this year.

Parkersburg resident Leanna Henderson spoke about Madame CJ Walker, a black haircare and fashion pioneer who “paved the way for all hair textures and skin tones.” Henderson said she was half black and struggled growing up in a predominantly Caucasian community.

“We should all celebrate cultures, no matter where they come from,” said Henderson.

Contact Brett Dunlap at [email protected] and Evan Bevins at [email protected]




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