The Birmingham Branch of the NAACP is as active in community service today as it has ever been. Hezekiah Jackson IV, president of the local chapter, makes sure of that.
Jackson has served as president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People since 1998 and has been a member for the past 40 years.
“I came from a time where [volunteering] wasn’t negotiable. People wanted to keep us busy so they wanted us to work with the church, they wanted us to work with the Civic League, the NAACP; anything that was going to keep us busy,” he recalled.
And it did. Jackson said they would walk door-to-door, ask residents to sign up and talk about the future of the black community. Jackson said he had a number of mentors who taught black history.
“Older people would tell the stories and we wrote the stories down so that we could tell the stories again like they told it,” he said. “Being in those tight communities, stories would get cross referenced. If we tried to retell the story someone would say ‘that’s not how it happened’ so we would write it down,” he said.
Jackson said he’s supportive of the younger generation of activists and hopes they realize the similarities between what they are doing and the NAACP.
“I like Black Lives Matter, I think it’s important us that we all complement each other,” he said. “The role they are playing, bringing attention to our experience in America with law enforcement, is important… they have been able to bring that back to the forefront, put the issue back on the table where it should remain because it was never resolved, and I support them 100 percent.”
At some point there must be solutions, but bringing attention to the issues is important as well, he said. Some things between police relations and the black community have not changed, Jackson added.
“Your answers should be short: ‘yes sir, no sir.’ You don’t try to explain,” Jackson said. “Older people would tell us that whatever we do, don’t look them in the eye, because that would be translated as disrespect in the police officer’s mind. The object of the game was to get home alive.”
Recently the Alabama NAACP boycotted Black Friday in response to the police-related killings across the country. Because of the economic power in the black community, the organization found it important to encourage residents to not shop on that traditionally busy day.
“I think we are undeniably the number one consumers in America,” he said. “We should be able to say that if we don’t see redirection, then we just won’t shop because we impact the economy that much.”
The Birmingham NAACP and its dedicated group of volunteers are involved in a number of activities and programs, Jackson said. For example, the organization has a toy drive under way.
“We have a lot of children of color who are disenfranchised and won’t receive a toy for Christmas, so we think it’s important that when young people have an opportunity to have the healthiest childhood that they can have, we will do what we can to make them feel as though they have a normal childhood.”
Jackson pointed out the work being done by Myrna C. Jackson, chair of the Metro Birmingham/Women in the NAACP and their Annual Toy Giveaway for infants to 12 years. Registration is Fri. Dec. 2 beginning at 9 a.m. at St. Paul United Methodist Church, 1500 6th Avenue North. The toy pickup is Fri. Dec. 9 at a.m.
The toy drive is only a part of the programs the NAACP has. When Hezekiah Jackson became president, he implemented the Community Service Programs (CSP), where the group assists those with legal troubles.
“That is all about how to navigate the judicial system, because so many people of color are in the system and they don’t have a clue how to deal with it,” he said. “A lot of them take bad deals because they don’t know how to deal with the system, nor do they have the means . . . many people just want their cases to be over with, so they accept whatever the judge gives them and it doesn’t end in their favor. But if you go through the entire process, you have a chance to decide what happens.”
CSP is also a way to demonstrate the value of individuals. “If you are in court and the judge sees that you are doing community service, it can work in your favor,” Hezekiah Jackson said. “It can offer alternative sentences and fines.”
Participants are required to learn trades so they are connected to Lawson State Community College or Jefferson State Community College.
“In the end they are happy because they see it works for them,” Hezekiah Jackson said. “Even if they are taking baby steps, they’re still moving forward and that’s what we want for them; they can’t stay still.”