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Archive for Thursday, December 9, 2004

NAACP leader to step down

President pleased with Lawrence membership resurgence

December 9, 2004

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When Janis Cobbs steps down today from her position as Lawrence NAACP president, it won't be for lack of success.

For an organization on life-support a year ago, Cobbs' term as president has seen a rebirth in both interest and membership in the Lawrence branch of the nation's oldest civil rights group.

Since the group met last year to consider whether to continue in the face of waning membership and dwindling financial support, Cobbs has directed a turnaround that saw dues-paying membership grow from between 15 and 20 to more than 70 active members.

Now, Cobbs is preparing to hand over the leadership position.

After an NAACP nominating group met at a closed-door meeting Nov. 29 to name new leadership for many of the organization's posts, Cobbs said she was ready to turn the reins over to "new and old blood."

"It's a little bit sad," Cobbs said. "But I think I've accomplished a lot since I took over."

The organization has revived events, including a soul-food dinner and the Freedom Fund Banquet and has pushed to cultivate a feeling of renewal in the black community.

"We saw the untapped potential of the community," Cobbs said. "We gave it a kick."

Now, as leadership changes, NAACP members are looking to maintain the wave of interest.

"I'd like to see continued growth, to work on bringing people back to the branch," said Sonja Johnson, the fund-raising and internal affairs chairwoman whom the nominating committee chose as the new president.

But while interest in the organization has grown the past two years, the number of blacks in the community has decreased.

According to recent Kansas University Policy Research Institute estimates, the black population in Lawrence has fallen to 4,257 in 2003 from 4,331 in 2000.

But Johnson said the numbers didn't concern her and probably wouldn't be a factor in the NAACP's membership the next two years.

"Over a period of time, you're going to have those kinds of changes," she said. "Those aren't going to affect our numbers. It's like apples and oranges."

Johnson moved to Lawrence five years ago. In her experience, minority communities have made themselves more visible than when she first arrived.

Johnson said the NAACP's revival helped foster that change, bringing black, Hispanic and Jewish communities together for events like the Freedom Fund Banquet and the Juneteenth celebration.

"It brought out everybody," she said. "We thought that this was a good thing. Let's keep this going."

Now, Johnson will wait until the organization's monthly meeting today when members will officially vote on the leadership nominees to see whether she will have the opportunity to lead the organization Cobbs revitalized.

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