NAACP counts achievements | challenges

Martin Luther King Jr.

By Pat Waring - January 12, 2006

Last year was a good and productive one, but there is plenty of work to be done in 2006. This was the message of Marie Allen, finishing her first year as president of the Martha's Vineyard branch of the NAACP. The Times talked to Ms. Allen this week, as the organization prepares for its annual Martin Luther King Jr. Awards and Membership Dinner. The festive event will be held Tuesday, Jan. 17 at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. Along with a delicious dinner and upbeat socializing, the evening features a dynamic guest speaker and awards.

Deborah C. Jackson, this year's keynote speaker, is CEO of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay, one of the 10 largest local units nationwide. She is also co-chair of Mayor Menino's Task force to Eliminate Racial and Ethnic Disparities in health care and has participated on commissions and boards in such organizations as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, and the Boston Stock Exchange. Ms. Jackson has held executive posts at the Boston Foundation, Boston Children's Hospital, Morgan Memorial Goodwill Industries, and other service agencies. She recently received the Hero Among Us Award from the Boston Celtics; other honors include the Boston Chamber of Commerce Pinnacle Award for achievement in non-profit management.

Marie Allen. Photo by Ralph Stewart
Marie Allen, president of the Island branch of the NAACP. Photo by Ralph Stewart

According to Ms. Allen, Ms. Jackson was closely involved with the Hurricane Katrina relief efforts. Asked whether Ms. Jackson would address the question of whether black people received inequitable treatment during the disaster, Ms. Allen said, "I hope she does!"

Ms. Allen, who moved here from Boston, has impressive credentials of her own, having retired as MBTA Project Coordinator several years ago and worked as the state's assistant transportation secretary during the Weld administration. She listed a number of the NAACP's activities and achievements over 2005. "I thought I'd come down here and take it easy, but I've been working harder than when I had a good job making money," laughed Ms. Allen about the past year.

In 2005 the branch negotiated a number of employment discrimination cases, and collaborated with the Wampanoag Tribe of Aquinnah and the Martha's Vineyard Hebrew Center on health and education activities, hosting a forum with new schools superintendent James Weiss. Due to concerns about health-care disparities for people of color, the branch gathered NAACP members from the New England region to explore the issue.

Not only did the local group present a total of $4,000 in scholarship aid to two graduating high schoolers, it also was honored for raising more money for Katrina survivor relief than any other New England branch, some $8,000. New England Conference president Juan Cofield will be on hand Tuesday to present the group with a plaque for this effort.

Deborah C. Jackson. Photo by Dan West
Deborah C. Jackson will be the keynote speaker at Tuesday's dinner. Photo by Dan West
"And in one year we have doubled our membership," said Ms. Allen, who asked "every person I know" to join and helped raise the total from 141 to 255 members. Ms. Allen stressed that the NAACP, both local and national, is not a black-only organization but welcomes all ethnicities and has many white members.

This year the branch will host new national NAACP president Bruce Gordon, executive vice president of Verizon, at a major summer fundraiser. And there will be a big push to develop a youth council, getting younger people involved in the NAACP.

Asked about how life is for black people living on the Vineyard, Ms. Allen said, "it depends on who you talk to." She said some feel there is discrimination against blacks here, especially in employment. Others say the Vineyard is a wonderful place to live. She said that although a number of high-level public posts have been held by blacks, problems can arise in lower level jobs. "The race issue is with us, no matter where you live," she said.

Martin Luther King Jr. Awards and Membership Dinner, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 6 pm (reception), 7 pm (dinner) Harbor View Hotel, Edgartown. Tickets, $65, includes membership fee. For info, call 508-693-2797.