If you thought Donnell White was tapped for the head position at the Detroit Branch NAACP for his charisma, composure and dashing good looks you’d be right — in part. Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the nation’s largest branch of the historic civil rights organization, says White’s appointment to the interim executive director position “ … reflects the future of the NAACP.”
While White’s credentials are impeccable, and he is in a prime position to attract the demographic the Detroit Branch NAACP is targeting to move its mission forward, he says he is awed by the honor.
More recently the 2011 Michigan Chronicle 40 Under 40 honoree and the youngest executive director in the history of the Detroit Branch NAACP, has been selected as one of 75 individuals to participate as a Marshall Memorial Fellow. He has been assigned to the Fall 2014 program, and will be traveling across the Atlantic from Oct. 16 to Nov. 9, 2014.
White has worked with the NAACP’s Youth Council Advisors, ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural Technological Scientific Olympics), organized marches and national demonstrations and represented the branch across the country at various forums.
The Michigan Chronicle spoke with White a 20111 40 Under 40 honoree about his his designation as a Marshall Memorial fellow.
The Michigan Chronicle and your many supporters congratulate you on your recent selection as a Marshall Memorial Fellow and your many accomplishments since your 40 Under 40 designation in 2014. What will the Fellowship involve?
First hats off to the Michigan Chronicle who has provided opportunities for individuals and the young adult community, particularly African Americans, to be highlighted so that we have an opportunity to develop a network that is supportive and a community that is able. I am truly a beneficiary of that community who has wrapped their arms around me and supported my pursuit for greatness and to do things in the city that I did not believe was possible if it had not been for that support.
The first part of the fellowship program is an emerging phase, so there is a cohort of American fellows who will be heading to Europe for a 30 day introduction to the European culture. I will be afforded the opportunity to go to Brussels, Belgium, Germany, Lisbon, Portugal, Belgrade, Serbia and Paris. Throughout those communities [we’ll] meet with members of parliament, community leaders and thought provokers to help embrace the European culture. But more importantly, we”’ identify the areas where there can be collaborations with America. We look forward to traveling to Europe and bringing resources and opportunities back to Detroit and back to the U.S. that can better our communities locally and nationally.
Across the world there is a respect for the NAACP. In Europe there is a rise of organizations that focus on diversity and inclusion. As elections become more fair and open to the community, there is a concerted conversation centered around fair elections, which the NAACP brings a unique perspective to. So I look forward to engaging my European fellows in similar conversations, but more importantly, I look forward to coming back and talking to Detroiters about opportunities that exist to bring international concepts to business and intellectual capital.
What do you say to the naysayers about what black people are doing in Detroit?
One, lets debunk some myths. There are a lot of initiatives and things underway where we are working together strategically. And it’s part of the opposition who says, ‘you know, there is nothing good that’s going on.’ Black churches are still alive and well, as are organizations like the NAACP, the Urban League and North End Youth Empowerment Corporation. We can go down the list and gamut of organizations that have longevity and are making a difference in the communities. So we have to know, appreciate and count the victories that weve had over the years. With that being said, there is still a lot of room for improvement and opportunites for us to, again, be apart of that collective. So that we are not regressing to where we came from and the gap is not widening to where we need to go.
What is the message the NAACP is bringing to the world?
We fight until we win! I wish I could say that the issues of the NAACP in 1909 when we were founded as an anti lynching organization have all been resolved, but our work on issues like political engagement and economic parity and housing issues is ongoing. I wish we could say we put to bed a majority of those issues,but while there have been victories along the way — some local and some in the U.S. Supreme court — there are still many victories for us to go. So we fight until we win or are undefeated in our quest for equal rights and social justice for all, because if we don’t get a victory we are back to the drawing board to continue to press toward the mark.
What current projects are you pressing forward on?
The election cycle is underway. The recent voter registration date has come and passed. [The NAACP] is working with individuals who are currently incarcerated, but have not yet been convicted and sentenced. So we know that here in the State of Michigan, although you are incarcerated you’re still able to register to vote so long as you have you have not been convicted and sentenced. So we have an aggressive program, working with Sheriff Benny Napoleon moving … through out the jails making sure our citizens are empowered.
When you you were a younger man and decided to volunteer for the NAACP, what was it that you told yourself you had to offer?
So, the journey to where I am now started as a volunteer where I was answering phones and making coffee. … I was at a point in time where I was at the crossroads of whether or not to go back to school and pursue my professional career, or follow the mantra that has become prevalent in the young adult community, ‘Get paid, get rich or die trying.’ But there is an older concept that says [you have to] pay your dues and that is the concept I grew up with. So I saw an opportunity at the NAACP. I also knew a little bit better. I knew that coming to the NAACP would open me up to a wealth of experiences that is really hard to get outside this environment. So it was a strategic move as well.
Who are people you have admired and been able to work with?
From elected officials to religious leaders to national leaders to entertainers, the list is vast. There have been a lot of individuals who have come through these doors both on local and national levels and have an affinity with the NAACP. There has been a wealth of opportunity. I have been been affored the opprotunity to sit on boards and different committees and been afforded opportunites that I dont believe would have been availble if I would have taken another road, persay.
What would you advise for the next generation to do in order to pay it forward and recognize those who have paved the way for them?
Do not get disconnected and forget the shoulders of the giants we stand on. Truly our generation is walking on the floors that we didnt have to mop and thru doors we didnt have to hold open for others. So we should make sure that the next generation, those of us who got a hand up, we give a hand back to the communities that we come from. Many of us dont come from the best walks of life from an historical context, but we are doing very well today. So we cant forget that segment of the community that still needs someone to say “ Here is an opportunity. Here is a hand up to help you make a difference. Our community, our circle is who we are. Its are cultural connection of being a community. Our African Ancestry doesnt afford us the opportunity to be in Silos or to be individuals. We are a collecive people and I think to those who are coming up not to disconnec from who we are as a people. I think the professional success woud be better once we have community success together.