By Don E. Woods/South Jersey Times
on October 21, 2013 at 7:00 AM, updated October 21, 2013 at 7:31 AM
VINELAND — The new president of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP has local ties, having worked in the Vineland area and served as president of the Greater Vineland Branch of the organization for 14 years.
The state’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People conference elected Richard Smith as president at its Oct. 12 meeting in Atlantic City.
He replaces James Harris, the state NAACP president for the past eight years and the man Smith has served under as vice president since 2009.
“He has eminent qualifications for excellent leadership and I support him 100 percent,” Harris said.
The term lasts for two years and leads all 41 branches of the NAACP in New Jersey.
Smith hopes to use his new position to re-establish the organization on a grander scale and as a greater force in Trenton.
“We really want to take the New Jersey State Conference to a whole new level,” he said.
One of the first steps in his plan is to set up a NAACP office as close to the Statehouse as possible, in order for the organization to have more say in legislation.
“Our desire now is to make sure we show up when legislation is offered to say what we are for rather than showing up later after to say what we’re against,” Smith said.
The new president wants to create that dialogue with lawmakers in a bipartisan fashion.
“We have to come up with solutions because we can’t always depend on these elected officials to fix our problems,” Smith said.
The newly-elected president also hopes to use education and schools to bolster the NAACP’s ranks and continue fighting for civil rights.
“You just have to look at what’s going on and, unfortunately, while we’re 104 years old, the NAACP is still needed because racism is alive and well,” Smith said.
Those issues include employment and education inequality, minimum wage, teen pregnancy, homelessness and the guns and drugs found in economically-affected areas.
In addition, Smith plans to strengthen relationships with other civil rights groups — like the National Urban League and the New Jersey Black Issues Convention.
“Somewhere along the line we have to come together as people for solutions in our neighborhoods and communities,” Smith said.
For Smith, who once served as a member of the Vineland Board of Education, education is the most important thing.
He helped the Greater Vineland Branch of the NAACP start a scholarship fund 10 years ago, which has given more than $50,000 toward the education of Cumberland County African Americans and Hispanics.
He is also working toward schools throughout the state implementing more education about African Americans in American history.
“I have every confidence in Richard Smith as the president of the New Jersey State Conference of the NAACP and he will be an outstanding leader,” Harris said.
“He will lead the NAACP to higher visibility, greater unity and much greater impact.”
Contact staff writer Don E. Woods at 856-451-1000, ext. 518 or firstname.lastname@example.org