Rev. Keith Caldwell

By Rosetta Miller Perry

Rev. Keith Caldwell’s sudden and abrupt resignation as president of the Nashville NAACP comes at a most difficult time in this city’s and nation’s history. Protests are continuing north, east, west and south. Citizens are fed up with decades of police misconduct and brutality, and are rising up to say it will no longer be tolerated. The time to end white supremacist policies is now, not tomorrow, next month, or next year. Yet, while there have been several marches held here locally and numerous organizations are rallying people around the causes of social justice and economic inequality, the organization that is supposed to be leading this fight is embroiled in personal disputes and marred by years of ineffective leadership. Locally this city has budgetary issues, ongoing problems with the lack of Black male faces in 99% of city positions, a huge disparity in terms of minority firms getting contract opportunities, and continuing gross iniquity in educational resources for a public school system that is increasingly more Black and Brown students. On top of all this, there’s the COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportionate impact on the Black and Brown community. But in the midst of all these problems, the local NAACP has largely been either silent or very ineffective. Now, it pushed out another President, Rev. Keith Caldwell. He said his resignation was due to “philosophical differences” with the NAACP State Conference President Gloria Sweet-Love, who has held that position for 24 long years. Yet, Rev. Caldwell said he was “thankful that the branch has been able to reclaim its historic image and relevance,” and he made several claims about positive developments that have occurred during his nearly two-year administration. Among the things he cited were the passage of the Community Oversight Board (COB), and helping to get legislation preventing other Black juvenile offenders like Cyntoia Brown from receiving excessive harsh sentences, and also working for equity of education across Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). Well, if the NAACP wants to take credit for those things, fine, although we don’t see that working for equity in education across Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) is actually true. Citizens in Nashville know for a fact that other community organizations are far more responsible for whatever positive changes have occurred here in Nashville than the Nashville branch of the NAACP. But let’s look at the bigger picture: In the eyes of many Nashville citizens, particularly those in North Nashville and other areas, the NAACP is supposed “To ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination.” This Chapter receives an “F” as this Nashville NAACP Chapter has failed to live up to its founding purpose. Let’s take one area: There’s no accountability in regards to when this branch get funds from our community and what happens to those funds. Which bank accounts are they held in? No detailed treasurer’s report is given to members just a brief summary. Members do not get a regularly posted schedule of meetings or events. There’s not even a full-time secretary in the office with citizens often visiting the Tribune office asking when does that office open. Who’s really in charge? How much impact, influence and power does the State Conference have in the day-to-day decision making structure of the local NAACP? The Tribune have so many been conflicting complaints. This branch needs strong, visionary leadership. It needs a leader who can convince young folks (and for that matter middle age and older ones too) that the NAACP still matters, that they’re actively involved on a daily basis in all the issues that affect the constituencies they were formed to serve. What are the programs they either have created or are developing to train future leaders and provide opportunities for young people? How about community advocacy and voter registration efforts? The local NAACP should be at the forefront of these activities, rather than bringing up the rear behind Equity Alliance, or not even being involved. This isn’t about attacking the NAACP, I have been a paid Life and Golden Heritage member for more than 25 years, I want to see the organization reformed. Let’s get some fresh faces and people who truly want to lead that branch. You stay away about 15 years and come back and you see the same ole folks still fussing and cussing. Same folks all these years taking their free annual vacation on local NAACP’S money for the National Conference. The NAACP’s legacy is one of activism and participation, not silence and ineptitude. The branch had close to 1/2 million dollars last years from the records I reviewed and where is the money? The next president should have an independent auditor review all bank statements and determine whether the branch’s several bank accounts and financial reports  are in order. Whenever any agency contributes funds, the members should know how much money was given and what programs will benefit from it. I along with all members have a right to know what has happened to the $250,000 and $100,000 and other large sums of money like a $30,000.00 check that was given to the NAACP last year just to name a few. And I need to know, why did a member personally spend $1,000 given to her by a local politician? I want to know why a non cleaning person was paid $1600 to deep clean three tiny offices seldom open? Is it true that checks are written and not noted what they were for? Where is the program for young people as it was years ago when I was an active member? I could go deep into the financial situation, but I will leave that up to the State, who audits charity organizations. But I must ask: Do some members really keep check books in their homes? I have another burning question – what happened to the $250,000 that should have gone to the black, brown and poor community when the tornado hit? As a member, do I not have a right to know who received any of this money? When? I would like to interview anyone that received that money back then. The Tribune was informed that no family in North Nashville received any of that money. I don’t believe this Chapter would do our Black community such a disservice. It is now almost July – what families were helped? Names, addresses? I don’t want to believe this. Are we not our brothers’ keepers? What happen to the $100,000 from the Titans? What was the distribution? Are there checks to prove this? Now I applaud the annual NAACP dinner and always support it. The late Geraldine Heath and I chaired the first $75.00 dinner and we paid for our table. Last year, what happen? Poor people could have had a night out if money wasn’t spent on hotel rooms, breakfast, etc. for family and friends of NAACP officials. Yes the hotel and others have the record. It breaks my heart for Black people to misuse poor Black people using rich White Folks Money. And there is more to be said but I will leave it at that. If a White Charity did what this NAACP branch has done to the Black community we would scream “discrimination” and file for an investigation with a Federal Agency. We must to be better than that. Now you wonder how much do I know? I have seen enough evidence to make me sick for a long long time. I won’t sleep much tonight. My heart is heavy and I am sad. It just looks like some criminal activity somewhere and it needs an investigation. Now this fall it is critical that there be a new administration in Washington D.C., and also that the Senate flip in order to allow that new leadership to do something concrete that improves the lives of the American people. The marches and protests we’re seeing this summer won’t mean anything if genuine police reform and social justice programs aren’t enacted. Voter registration, citizen education and participation should be key objectives for the next person in charge of the local NAACP, along with increasing the membership and getting more involvement and representation from younger residents. The local NAACP must regain its stature and tarnished reputation, and be viewed as a 21st Century Political Force, rather than a tarnished relic. So – Is the NAACP Still Relevant? You be the judge