By Rosetta Miller Perry
NASHVILLE, TN — April 19, 2018. Throughout its long and distinguished history the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), not only its national but also its state and local branches, has been very cautious and careful in regards to involvement in partisan politics. In fact, as a tax-exempt entity, the organization always has to make certain it operates in the highest ethical manner.
It wasn’t all that long ago (2004) that the NAACP was under fire from the Internal Revenue Service. They announced an investigation was underway of the organization’s tax-exempt status because then chairman Julian Bond had given a speech at the annual convention criticizing President George W. Bush and other political figures. Because the speech was more symbolic than specific, the IRS later ruled “that the remarks did not violate the group’s tax-exempt status.”
But they reminded the NAACP that the US Internal Revenue code prohibits organizations granted tax-exempt status from “directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective political office.” Apparently some members of the State NAACP are unfamiliar with that code in light of their involvement with a forum last week at the McKissack School, Preston Taylor Boys & Girls Club.
Although advertised as being organized and run by the state branch of the NAACP, this forum was co-ordinated by Marilyn Brown, a major supporter of Brenda Gilmore, who also serves as First Vice President of the Nashville Branch of the NAACP. Kara Turrentine is the campaign manager for Gilmore. They both served as moderators for a carefully screened panel discussion whose participants were heavily stacked with candidates backed and supported by Gilmore.
The Tribune’s calls to the Nashville NAACP Branch with questions regarding panel selection, inclusion and exclusion were not answered. Nor were calls to the President answered. In addition, what was supposed to be a rally open to the public instead evolved into a quasi-campaign rally, where certain questions and candidates were treated in a very inhospitable, hostile fashion, despite the event being held at a non-profit agency.
The Tribune observed the following candidates being treated with rudeness and disdain:
Vivian Wilhoite – Property Assessor
Judge Nick Leonardo – Candidate for Judge-General Sessions Court-Division III
Pastor Howard Jones – Candidate for State Senate, District 19
Atty. Joy Sims – Candidate for Chancery Court
Attorney Sims was denied the opportunity to be part of the judges forum, despite the fact this was supposed to be a chance for all judicial candidates to participate. She was instead told in a nasty manner to go sit in the bleachers. But despite moderator Gilmore’s attempts to restrict her movement and ability to interact with those attending the event, Sims persevered. She continues to display the qualifications and demeanor that demonstrate she’s the best candidate for the Chancery Court Judge position.
Candidate Nick Leonardo a sitting judge, was also denied the chance to be part of the panel. He had quite a bit to say about this event. The Tribune offers his remarks about this slight, with his statements in quotes.
“The forum states it was put on by the Tennessee NAACP. Gloria Jean Sweet-Love is President of the Tennessee State Conference NAACP. I never received an email phone call or text telling me about the candidate forum. I only found out about the forum from Pastor Michael Joyner while we were working a polling precinct. I decided to go and when I arrived, Atty. Joy Sims was already there having discussions with Marilyn Brown. (Marilyn Brown has always hated me on the basis of being Caucasian and I did a ton of good things for her neighborhood as Councilman.)”
“It was my understanding that it was $150 to be a part of the candidate forum. The forum was solely a “judges forum.””
“We were told by Marilyn Brown that we were not allowed to participate because we never responded back to their inquiry in a timely fashion. However; I am the judge of general session, and I was there on time and willing to pay my fee to be a part of the forum (not sure what the fee was about). Brenda Gilmore let public officials speak at the beginning of the forum and Vivian went first and basically told everyone to vote for Nick Leonardo and then I got up second and explained that I was the general sessions judge and had no notice of today’s forum and had arrived on scene and was told that I was not allowed to participate.”
“I continued by stating that I believe the voters should have all the information possible, and that other candidates maintain they never received notice either, and that I would be more than happy to stay and participate, but was told that was not a possibility. Then Brenda Gilmore, a member of the Executive Board of the NAACP, reached for my mike and I gave it to her, and when I did she stated on the mic that “she knew better than to let me speak,” which is her letting the whole world know that the organization was fully aware that I was not invited and that I was probably going to get up there and say that. In addition to being disrespectful to a sitting judge, her statement is just telling on herself and her involvement in this effort to further discrimination and control the dissemination of information under the guise of the NAACP to the African-American community.”
“This forum was conducted on metro school property and legally I could’ve participated and said whatever I wanted to, but I chose to keep my cool and leave the premises after I spoke. Here is the best part – I was one of the founding board members for the YMCA/ boys and girls clubs at Preston Taylor in Moses McKissack Middle School. I started that collaboration 20 years ago, and was one of the founding members, and it’s still going today.”
“So they declined me the right to participate in a judicial forum as the judge who also created the outreach facility in which it was being held. This favoritism of candidates jeopardizes the 501(c)(3) nonprofit status of the state NAACP. Through their persistent efforts to discriminate they are jeopardizing the very institution they claim to represent and it underscores the persistent problem of the NAACP to stay relevant in current times.”
“The only two candidates in my race involved were Anna Escobar and Sheryl Guinn. The goal was to have Escobar juxtaposed to Guinn as the African-American candidate to bolster her lackluster efforts in this race. It is my understanding that Angie Dalton, Joy Sims and Sam Coleman also had issues. Joy had no notice, and Sam and Angie were just “too late” in responding and the latter two did not show up. I think the money paid for any of those candidates involved were to demand that every candidate be allowed to participate as there is no prejudice to anyone as the booklet had already been printed, and there is no cost associated with the use of metro property.”
“As someone who is always been an advocate for the minority community it is exceedingly frustrating and is exactly what the African-American community went through 50 years ago in politics when they too were not allowed to participate and disseminate their message due to the color of their skin. The case of Joy Sims and I are really good because Joy is the only African-American candidate in her race and I was the only sitting judge who showed up that was turned away and not allowed to participate. More over, you sit through these forums about 37208 and the mass incarceration of African-American men, and yet the NAACP puts a prosecutor in the booklet – now if that is not mind boggling I am at a loss.”
“Politics in Nashville has been a real rollercoaster for me. However, I really do have an idea what it’s like to be Black in America. I felt as though I was Shirley Chisholm and not allowed to participate because of my color. To be the one who essentially built the facility we were in thru my volunteer efforts and then be told that I’m less than or not welcome. I have a sincere appreciation for the last 400 years and the struggle continues today. Strides have been made and much more is left to accomplish. MLK marched along side folks that looked like me, there were even folks that looked like me that were killed for the cause.”
“The AA community cannot do it alone and needs the help of others around them who don’t look the same or come from where they come from. If you must have white folks to help move closer to a post racial world. (I can’t refute that as there would be no Obama with Jesse Jackson in the 80s, but lets not forget that Obama took white votes to get there as well- he got mine and my families twice) then I think I’m a good choice to help move our country towards a place we all want to leave for our children. I’ll never understand why I get so much pushback with a proven track record that should have developed trust in the community.”
“However at the end of the day, I will not let this small group of ignorant folks change who I am, what I stand for, and what my legacy will be. I want my epitaph to say “here lies Nick Leonardo, he did his damnedest” and no group or individual will take that from me, because if I allowed them I would be setting the world back that I’m going to leave my daughter 100 years. Decisions are only as good as the information upon which they are based and controlling that information as was done today is exactly the same way AA people were treated for 100s of years by whites. Exhausting isn’t it?”
That kind of behavior makes the NAACP look as though they are engaging in discrimination against whites, the last thing that the organization needs, and certainly not something that makes them look good in any setting.
Though this was supposed to be a state NAACP event, it had the look of a Gilmore event, and many attendees remarked to the Tribune it was clear they were running the show. One candidate was told he could not pass out literature because his campaign hadn’t purchased a $150 booth despite the fact there were no written guidelines stipulating that policy. Plus, how could it be enforced at a public event being held at a non-profit agency?
The Tribune also witnessed a very loose scenario and waste of time in the involvement of reformed felons. While the newspaper fully supports restoring voting and property rights to anyone who has served their time, we found it strange that no officials were available for the process so there was no vetting or background checks at that event as far we could ascertain. So what was the purpose of the Tennessee State NAACP inviting felons to attend other than having numbers counted for a Gilmore political event.
Overall, there remain a lot of questions about this event. It also can be fairly asked whether the State NAACP at best crossed the line in regards to policy and ethics in its involvement with it, and at worse became pawns in a partisan political rally masquerading as a public forum. If the State NAACP was the sponsor then why was the local branch involved? Everyone in Nashville knows Brenda’s role at the NAACP.
Editorial note: NAACP members have flooded the Tribune office with complaints about the unethical conduct of Brenda Gilmore. For example, with her campaign money she has paid $30.00 for Harry Gilmore for NAACP rec. # 346… and $75.00 Erica Gilmore rec. # 349… and $105 from Committee to elect Brenda Gilmore. Personally, I like Brenda, but she is a politician and only lives for the next election, what we need is a statesman who lives for the next generation.