Joan Duvall-Flynn, president of the NAACP’s Pennsylvania State Conference, spoke to students about the role that children and young adults have played throughout the organization’s history in a discussion organized by Lehigh’s Student Political Action Coalition, SPAC, on April 17.
“We need people who have dedicated their lives to political activism to really teach us so that we can become advocates,” said Chloe Sider, ’21, a SPAC representative and one of the event coordinators. “We want to show students that issues they are passionate about are worth their time, energy and advocacy.”
The NAACP, which stands for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was founded in 1909 by a diverse group of individuals including Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. DuBois, with a mission “to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination,” according to NAACP’s website.
The organization does work on housing, education, health, political action and environmental justice, which are areas that have particular impact on people of color and the poor.
Duvall-Flynn said young people have been a valuable part of the NAACP since the 1950s. She cited the 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama, where middle and high school students left school to march for civil rights.
“They broke the back of segregation in Alabama,” Duvall-Flynn said. “Children from all around Birmingham walked to the city for that protest … The children went into the park, and they were praying… (The police) turned the hoses on those kids, and the kids made a circle, linked arms and started laughing. That’s when (Eugene ‘Bull’) O’Connor said to the power structure, ‘that’s it, they’re not scared of us anymore.’”
O’Connor was the commissioner of public safety for the city of Birmingham at the time.
Duvall-Flynn encouraged greater awareness and advocacy for social justice issues from those who may not be directly affected by them. She acknowledged that for many, issues of inequality and injustice do not become a problem until someone close to them is affected.
“Everything that is wrong in society affects everyone,” Duvall-Flynn said. “If the laws aren’t fair, one day it’s going to be your spouse or your brother…that’s when it gets personal.”
Duvall-Flynn said she wants youth to reclaim their civic agency.
Students had the opportunity at the event to voice concerns about social justice issues plaguing society today and changes they would like to see or make.
“These are the conversations we need to be having right now,” said Jacques Pelman, ’22, an attendee. “I felt like the event was worth my time, and I would definitely go to something else like it.”
As president of NAACP, Duvall-Flynn is responsible for speaking on behalf of the Pennsylvania NAACP. She monitors the work of 14 statewide committees and meets with lawmakers in Harrisburg. She has been a lifelong member of the NAACP, joining her local branch when she was 9 years old. Duvall-Flynn represented her branch at the 1963 March on Washington.
“You will change the world, each one of you,” Duvall-Flynn said. “It’s not that hard…you do one good thing, and the entire world is better off.”