Activist Levy-Pounds hopes young people energize NAACP

Friendly embrace
Lena K. Gardner, left, and Nekima Levy-Pounds embrace outside the Hennepin County District Court, March 10, 2015. She is among 11 protesters Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson has charged with trespass and disorderly conduct.
Jeffrey Thompson | MPR News

Updated 1:15 p.m. | Posted 4 a.m.

One of the most prominent members of the protest group Black Lives Matter is poised to become the new president of the Minneapolis NAACP this weekend.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas and a leading Twin Cities voice for civil rights, hopes she can attract new young members to the nation's oldest civil rights organization.

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

Levy-Pounds, 38, has had a rising profile since she helped lead the Black Lives Matter protest at the Mall of America in December. She is among 11 protesters Bloomington City Attorney Sandra Johnson has charged with trespass and disorderly conduct, although Mall of America officials have dropped $40,000 in restitution claims.

The Minneapolis chapter's departing president, the Rev. Jerry McAfee, contends Levy-Pounds is not the best candidate for the job, given her role in the protest group. But she is undeterred.

On Wednesday, Levy-Pounds was among hundreds of demonstrators who marched through downtown Minneapolis. The marchers aimed to show solidarity with protesters in Baltimore who are outraged by the death of Freddie Gray, an African-American man who died in police custody there last week.

A Los Angeles native who moved to Minnesota in 2003, Levy-Pounds also runs a civil rights legal clinic at St. Thomas. She is running for the presidency of the NAACP because she is concerned about racial disparities in Minneapolis, which are some of the widest gaps in the country.

"This is really an opportunity to engage a broader group of stakeholders in this fight for social and racial justice," she said.

Although there doesn't appear to be anyone running against Levy-Pounds, it is possible there will be write-in candidates on Saturday's ballot.

But that doesn't mean she's unopposed. McAfee, who decided not to run for reelection, said the organization needs to focus more narrowly on issues that directly affect African-Americans, such as violence in the black community.

When it comes to the struggle for civil rights, McAfee said, Levy-Pounds' involvement in Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality isn't enough.

Nekima Levy-Pounds, UST law professor
University of St. Thomas law professor Nekima Levy-Pounds called on racial-justice advocates in St. Paul to keep raising awareness about Minnesota's racial disparities, Feb. 18, 2015,
Laura Yuen | MPR News

"If black lives matter, black lives got to matter even when black folk kill black folk," McAfee said. "[They're] always marching 500 to 600 or however many people against the police — which is a good thing — but you need to do that same damn thing in our community."

Levy-Pounds, who said she has heard that criticism before, said it misses the point. She said people of all racial backgrounds are most likely to commit violence against someone who looks like them.

"The reality is that if a black person kills another black person, they can expect to be prosecuted," she said. "We cannot say the same thing will happen if an officer shoots an unarmed black person."

Brett Buckner, who served as Minneapolis branch president from 2003 to 2004, said Levy-Pounds likely will bring some needed energy and new membership to the organization.

Elected for a two-year term, an NAACP chapter president arrives with new supporters and agendas. But Buckner said it may take a while for a new leader to accomplish those new aims.

"You have a limited ability to change the direction of an organization as storied as the NAACP," Buckner said. "There's a set way of doing things. There's constitutional bylaws that are pretty strict. We report up, regionally and nationally."

Anyone who lives or works in Hennepin County is eligible to become a voting member of the group by joining and paying dues of $30, said Levy-Pounds, who lives in Brooklyn Park and works in Minneapolis.

She hopes some of the young and enthusiastic 20-somethings involved in groups like Black Lives Matter also will join the NAACP.

"I think that that's what's needed to begin to awaken our community to the fact that if we stand up and fight, if we march, if we rally, if we advocate, then that can lead to change," she said.

NAACP election

A special election of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP will take place Saturday at Northpoint Health and Wellness Center, 1313 Penn Avenue North, Minneapolis. The election will run from 5 to 7 p.m. or until complete.

Besides Levy-Pounds, community activist Jamar Nelson of Brooklyn Center has also announced he's a candidate for the NAACP post.

Two other candidates who haven't released their names could also be on the ballot.