SCHENECTADY — Following years of inactivity, Schenectady NAACP has now relaunched.
While the local chapter was recognized nationally early on for its work in housing discrimination issues, the group sputtered in recent years and became inactive after its most recent leader left the area.
However, a handful of people formed the catalyst for resurrection, and the group now hosts 75 members.
“There was this groundswell of interest,” said Schenectady NAACP President Dr. Odo Butler.
The newly-recharged group aims to focus on eliminating systemic disparities in the educational, health care, immigration and criminal justice systems.
“When a part of the community suffers from these disparities, it hurts the entire area,” Butler said. “We try to find ways to deal with those disparities - a bad education system in Schenectady is not good for anyone.”
Butler said a leading emphasis is providing a voice for the voiceless, or people who feel marginalized and have lost hope in institutional pillars.
City Councilwoman Marion Porterfield helped reform the group and now sits on the executive committee.
“One of the goals is to make sure people have a place to go to if they’re not being represented or heard by any [organization] they’re going to,” Porterfield said.
A key part of the group’s strategy is partnering with people and institutions who want to see change, and become a regular part of the conversation — like attending school district board of education meetings, for instance.
“The process of doing it requires a certain level of courage, and a certain level of sacrifice,” Butler said.
Butler, who serves as Director of Institutional Research at American International College in Springfield, Mass., also wants to bolster youth involvement as well as develop an ongoing relationship with the city Police Department.
City Council recently accepted the group’s nominee to the Civilian Police Review Board, which has been chronically understaffed.
The independent body is the civilian arm of the police accountability process. People can file complaints with the board for multiple reasons, including harassment, use of excessive force, use of abusive language, discriminatory treatment and criminal conduct.
Schenectady NAACP, Butler said, looks forward to working with city police to ensure responsible community policing, and will continue to focus on systemic imbalances within the criminal justice system.
But they’re also not interested in being a “rubber stamp” in the review process, he said, and will be critical if necessary.
“We’re responsible to the public we serve,” Butler said. “If we don’t challenge the police on certain issues, they will not respect us.”
It’s a deliberative approach that isn’t always an easy one, he said, because some community members may want them to take an immediate stance on hot-button issues.
“We have to be disciplined as possible in managing this branch, certainly in this community,” Butler said. “There’s a fine line between offering an honest critique with love and taking a critical stance on things.”
Members of the group have been active in voter registration drives, and Schenectady NAACP hosted a well-attended candidates forum at the Phyllis Bornt Branch Library & Literacy Center last month.
Schenectady NAACP meets monthly every second Thursday of the month at the State Street Presbyterian Church at 5 Catherine St. Meetings are open to the public and participation is encouraged.