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NAACP with Kofi Annan

(Sept 24, 2018) Catherine Read interviews Kofi Annan, President of the Fairfax Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). They discuss the goals and accomplishments of the local chapter.

Annan is excited to enter the second year of his presidency of the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP.  Several years ago, when racial tensions were rising, he decided to join the chapter in order to help affect positive change in the community.  He quickly made a mark, and was encouraged to run for a leadership role. His background is in military service, and had never dabbled in the policy arena, but was excited for the challenge.   The chapter has been very busy under his leadership, and he hopes to continue to make a mark in the community. He and his wife reside in Herndon, where they are active members of community and are raising their two sons.

Annan, along with his staff and volunteers, has been engaged in the community efforts to ensure equality for all. His first big accomplishment included a change to the Drivers Education curriculum. The program is now required to include a presentation by a police officer that talks about how all drivers should interact with the police if they are pulled over. This is an important addition to the curriculum, and helps young drivers to know how to appropriately handle this situation in order to stay safe. Setting realistic expectations helps everyone stay on the same page, and can help avoid misunderstandings which can ultimately cause fatal problems.

Following their success with the Drivers Education curriculum, Annan chose to address inconsistencies that he noted with School Resource Officers (SROs). When reviewing data regarding SRO write-ups, he noticed that 60% of the SRO referrals happening in Fairfax were for students who are of African American or Latino heritage, even though those students only make up 30% of the population. When digging further into these incidents, they noticed that many of the referrals were for behaviors that should have been handled administratively through the school, not through the SRO.

Kofi Annan Fairfax NAACPAfter taking the data to the School Board and the Board of Supervisors, as well as raising awareness in the media, all parties were able to work together to pass a new policy. The policy is aimed at reducing the number of SRO referrals and arrests through the justice system, and encouraged SRO’s to work collaboratively with the school to try and resolve issues proactively at a local level. Annan mentions the fact that all parties were willing to come to the table with an open mind, along with ideas of how they could improve the process, allowed them to craft a policy that made sense for everyone.

The local chapter has also been heavily involved with the renaming of JEB Stuart High School in Falls Church. Several years ago, a group of students came together to protest the fact that the school was named after a Confederate General. These students took their issue to the School Board, with the help of their local NAACP chapter. They ultimately succeeded in their goal, and recently had the official naming ceremony of the new Justice High School. The entire process took approximately three years from start to finish, and Annan found it rewarding to see it come full circle.

In 2018, the Fairfax chapter of the NAACP was recognized for all of their hard work when they were granted the prestigious Thalheimer award. This national recognition was given at the annual NAACP conference in San Antonio in July. Annan was thrilled that his chapter was recognized for all of the hard work that they are putting in to make Fairfax County a more welcoming, fair and equitable community.

Annan and his team are currently working on several other important initiatives, including forming a curriculum subcommittee and a group to address criminal justice reform issues. The curriculum subgroup will look at what history is taught to our kids, and how it is taught. The goal is to incorporate different perspectives and viewpoints, as much of our history is taught from an Anglo-American perspective.

As for criminal justice reform, there are two main areas that are being addressed. First, the NAACP will be working together with Fairfax County Police regarding implementation of body cameras for all police officers. They are embarking on a pilot program this year, and are working closely to make sure that there are good policies surrounding the use of the cameras and the data that they will yield. They want this process to be transparent, and for all who are interested to be able to weigh in on the process.

The other program that will be getting their attention is the Diversion First program. Implemented in 2016 under the leadership of Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, this program is designed to help officers focus on de-escalation of criminal situations in low level crime situations.  This program offers alternatives to incarceration for people with mental illness or developmental disabilities.  The goal is to have the police officer intercede whenever possible to provide assessment, treatment or needed supports.  Annan is working with the justice system to make sure that minorities are being diverted at the same rate as white people. His goal is to ensure that the policy is effective across the board and all are being treated equally.

Annan is working hard to make the NAACP attractive to young people. They have an event planned on September 29th called Justice in the Park. The program will feature a panel of adults, including an author, a police officer, a representative from the Juvenile Justice System and a school representative, and will be moderated by the students. There will be free food and an opportunity to engage on a variety of levels.

Looking ahead, Annan has several other engagement opportunities available for those in the community. There will be an Affordable Housing Forum and a Job Fair on October 2nd, a Veterans and Minority owned Business Expo on December 15th, and a Women in the NAACP event on November 8th. He encourages all who are interested to participate in their monthly meetings, held on the 2nd Saturday of every month (check the website for location). Elections are coming up in November, so it is an ideal time to get involved.

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