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NAACP gets Haywood organizer

fr naacpHaywood County’s fledging chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is getting a little help this summer.

“I see myself as a booster pack,” said Sam Tyson. “A little summer energy.”

Tyson will serve as an NAACP Moral Freedom summer organizer in Haywood. The organization’s North Carolina chapter is dispatching such organizers around the state.

“The centerpiece initiative of this effort is an organizing campaign that places 50 highly trained Moral Freedom summer organizers in counties across the state to coordinate long-term, issue-based voter empowerment/registration campaigns and to support local efforts,” said Haywood County NAACP President Chuck Dickson, a local attorney.

Haywood’s summer organizer was introduced this month at the Pigeon Community Center in Waynesville. Tyson, a student at the University of North Carolina-Asheville, said he was looking forward to his summer station.

“Glad to be here in Haywood County, it’s a beautiful day,” Tyson said. “I need y’all, maybe y’all need me, we’ll see.”

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The NAACP’s summer organizer program commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Mississippi Freedom Summer, during which people worked to register African-American voters in the South. As a senior in high school, Tyson was involved with a theatric production based on that summer in Mississippi.

“I got to know a fair number of the freedom riders personally,” he recalled.

This summer the NAACP’s organizers will have a few objectives. To start with, they’ll be trying to register 50,000 voters across the state. They will also be trying to get another 5,000 people to join the NAACP.

The organizers’ work is described as “issue based” and aims to build “a long-term transformative fusion movement in North Carolina.”

“NAACP is non-partisan,” Tyson said, “but we’ve got some important elections coming up.”

Haywood’s summer organizer said he will be working to educate people about various issues — education funding, voting laws, environmental and jobs issues — facing North Carolina. He will also be tailoring his duties to fit the community.

“I’m here to tailor my efforts to this community,” Tyson said. “What you tell me is what you’ll get. I’m gonna be all ears.”

During the local chapter’s introduction to their summer organizer, members wondered if the added energy might help them push their membership to the 100-member mark.

“I believe we can knock that out this summer,” Tyson told them. 

Tyson arrives in Haywood full of state-level energy. He relays tales of his ventures in Raleigh. 

“I was at Moral Monday two days ago,” Tyson told local NAACP members. “Just about everybody in our program was almost arrested.”

Haywood’s summer organizer has some familial roots dug into North Carolina’s activists community. His parents are deeply involved in the Moral Monday events — his dad is a speechwriter for the N.C. NAACP head Rev. William Barber — and his sister, granddad and parents have all been arrested at demonstrations in Raleigh. 

“I’m neck deep in this,” Tyson said. 

The NAACP has spearheaded the demonstrations playing out regularly in Raleigh at the state legislative building in opposition to the direction the state’s Republican majority has veered. The organization has experienced somewhat of a rebirth due to its prominence in that conversation. 

“If they hadn’t been at the forefront of Moral Monday, I don’t think you would have seen the NAACP’s reemergence,” said Chris Cooper, head of Western Carolina University’s Department of Political Science and Public Affairs.

Cooper said the state’s NAACP conference has become a home for individuals on the left of the political spectrum. The organization still focuses on issues of race, but has also broadened its umbrella.

“I think it’s really interesting to see how the left is rebuilding an old organization, and I can’t think of another example when that has happened,” Cooper said. 

Cooper said that the NAACP and the Moral Monday movement have provided the left with a vehicle. Much like the Occupy Wall Street movement, only with structure.

“Whereas the Tea Party provides that for the right,” he said, “the NAACP has provided that for the left.”

That seems all the more obvious in NAACP chapters that have sprung up recently in Western North Carolina counties like Haywood and Jackson. The counties, as well as the membership of the new chapters, are predominantly white and focus on issues well outside the arena of race.

“That, I think, is what tells you this is more than about race now,” Cooper said of the new chapters. “It’s an organizational structure that the left can glob onto.”

Tyson recognizes the broadening of the NAACP’s scope. The evolution strikes him as exciting. 

“I think it’s been great for the movement,” he said. 

Tyson said the organization, of course, is still concerned with issues pertaining to race, but it also seeks to put energy into a host of other issues. He’s interested in finding out which particular issues are important to the Haywood community. 

“Which sort of issues are setting the town on fire and which ones are not,” Tyson said. 

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