Five candidates seek leadership change for Portland NAACP
A new coalition has organized to challenge the elected leadership of the Portland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"We have been active, engaged, committed and passionate about the local branch," says Sharon Gary-Smith, a 20-year NAACP member in various states who is challenging current NAACP President E.D. Mondainé.
"I'm not just running against the other person," said Gary-Smith. "I agreed to run to change the narrative of the leadership, to change the lack of representation of its membership, to be accountable in how we go about working to achieve racial and social justice."
To be sure, Mondainé — a pastor, entrepreneur, author and musical performing artist — remains an influential and well-known figure in Portland. After decades of activism, he became a leading voice in the local Black Lives Matter movement, giving speeches, writing in the opinion pages of The Washington Post and frequently lending his perspective to area media.
But as the Tribune reported in November, he has also faced allegations of sexism, bullying and withholding details of the nonprofit's finances. The slate of challengers echoed those accusations in their campaign materials, alleging that NAACP members have been on the receiving end of "angry outbursts, belittling, bullying, threats and retribution" from current branch leadership.
In an email to the Tribune, a spokesperson for the NAACP branch said its leaders "do not wish to speak directly to the allegations."
"We have learned that a small group of members unsatisfied with the current administration have gone to the press to air their grievances and make wildly exaggerated claims," according to the statement.
The five executive committee candidates, who are each current dues-paying members of the NAACP, say they have requested treasurer reports during meetings but have only received oral summaries.
Gary-Smith says those summations leave too many questions unanswered: "What is the state of our finances?" she asked. "Who's deciding what we're spending?"
Tamia Deary, who is running for the first vice president position, said she joined the NAACP after hearing concerns about transparency and that "Elbert silences the voices of women in general, and Black women in particular."
"I had to see that for myself, and I was just really taken aback with what I saw," she told the Tribune, recalling that she had been repeatedly put on mute and was then kicked out of an online meeting after attempting to make a motion.
"I spoke with President Mondainé, and I encouraged him to do a better job of being respectful of the voices of women in our organization," Deary said. "I don't feel like that has happened."
Natalie Rush, who is running for secretary, said the requirement to meet virtually has made it easier to hide dissent and disagreement. "What's really happening now is hiding behind Zoom," she said.
Mondainé sent signed "letters of dismissal" to several of the NAACP members pushing for change, but the national organization said their membership could not be removed, according to the Rise Up PDX website.
The statement from NAACP branch leadership touted several recent achievements, saying its membership and funding levels have more than quadrupled since 2018 — the same year the chapter began renting a storefront inside the Lloyd Center mall after 50 years without physical offices.
According to the statement, the branch was a key player in the push to pass the Portland Clean Energy Fund — helped quash a warning sign requirement for unreinforced masonry buildings, many of which are historically Black churches — awarded 10 scholarships to college students for the first time in many years and successfully lobbied for $800,000 in back payments for non-emergency medical transportation workers, who are mostly immigrants or Black.
The branch said it is now focused on a get out the vote campaign and is designing an entrepreneurial hub for business owners of color, multicultural restaurateurs and community banking.
"The NAACP endeavors to be a beacon of hope, strength and sustainability for all people of color," according to the statement. "As the oldest civil rights organization west of the Mississippi, the Portland NAACP prides itself on a democratic process for electing branch officers and Executive Committee members."
Only active NAACP members can vote in chapter elections. Those wishing to join must have their applications approved by the national committee by Oct. 20 in order to vote.
Here's who is running to reshape the Portland NAACP:
Running for: NAACP President, a position currently held by E.D. Mondainé.
Bio: A retired executive director of the MRG Foundation, Gary-Smith has held leadership positions with nonprofits for more than 40 years, including as vice president of the Urban League of Austin, Texas, as board chair of the Western States Center in Portland and of the Social Justice Fund NW in Seattle, as well as the director of Clients, Family & Community Programs for Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare.
Why she's running: Fighting for social justice has deep roots in Gary-Smith's family tree. Her daughter, tongue in cheek, calls herself a "third-generation agitator."
"They say, 'let Black women lead,' because we always have," said Gary Smith. "Particularly now in this time of racial reckoning and critical moment for real change, I continue to lead with this mindset. Because that's how we save our community, our families and culture."
Running for: First Vice President, a position that is currently vacant.
Bio: The founder and executive director of PDX Alliance for Self-Care, her work includes serving as a member at large of the Community Health Council — which serves as the Co-Applicant Board of Directors for Multnomah County's Health Centers in partnership with the Board of Commissioners — and provides Black leadership as a committee chair for the EWOK Medic & Crisis Support Collective.
Why she's running: "To take the power of the NAACP and return it to the people of this community, where it belongs."
Running for: Second Vice President, a position that is currently vacant.
Bio: An award-winning journalist, artist, producer and speaker, Smith serves as the vice chair of Beyond Black and created the multimedia platform Gentrification is WEIRD!
Why he's running: "I have great interest in the future of our city from a Black lens," said Smith, adding that the damage from decades of redlining, sundown laws and freeway building has not yet been repaired.
"What people want is full liberation, and that's what the NAACP is supposed to be about."
Running for: Secretary, a position currently held by Antjuan Tolbert.
Bio: An active member of the East Portland Parks Coalition and a board member of the Powellhurst-Gilbert Neighborhood Association, Rush has previously served as secretary for Friends of Gates Park and as the East Portland representative for Portland Parks & Recreation's budget advisory committee.
Why she's running: "When you're a part of an organization, it's not a one-man show. It's about all of us," she said. "The only way to make change is to be a part of the change you want to see."
Rhyan M. Hills
Running for: Treasurer, a position currently held by Michael Harper.
Bio: A licensed minister and community artist, Hills is the Founder of Cineman Shots, a visual content creation and business development company serving small business owners and artists of color.
Why she's running: "Numbers don't lie." Hills said. "I'm looking to restore the members' rights, so that the books are open and the leaders are being transparent as to how resources are used and money is being dispersed within the community."
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