Kansas City, Kan. Leaders of three Kansas chapters of the NAACP say they do help with discrimination complaints, but that people often misunderstand the organization's role and its level of authority.
The branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People held a forum Saturday to introduce residents to agencies that have the power to go a step further in resolving complaints.
Nathaniel McLaughlin, president of the Kansas City, Kan., branch, said people often bring their complaints of job and housing discrimination and racial profiling to the NAACP. But he said they don't realize the civil rights organization has no enforcement power.
The forum featured a multiagency panel that the NAACP branches from Johnson County, Bonner Springs and Kansas City, Kan., put together. The panel included officials from the U.S. Labor Department, Federal Trade Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Panelists answered questions about how to handle discrimination claims in several areas.
Dennis Hayes, interim president of the national NAACP, spoke at the opening of the forum, which was titled "Why Isn't the NAACP Doing Anything?"
"What the NAACP does is open doors," Hayes said. "We are opening doors when people don't know we are opening doors."
He said the role of the 99-year-old organization's national office is to "help our state offices be able to raise money to deal with problems on the local level."
"The movement for social justice is a people-power movement," Hayes said. "The fight needs to be waged on a local level."
Many at the forum said their claims of discrimination in the work force and court system had not been resolved. They said no one, including leaders of local NAACP chapters, had done enough to help.
One concerned resident, William Wells of Edwardsville, said he has attended forums in the past but has not seen the events lead to any changes. He said "people have heard it all before, and they are fed up."
None of the residents Saturday got their problems solved, but most left with information on how to file formal complaints and which agencies to contact for certain issues.
"We have to educate people so people see the NAACP as a viable institution that has a purpose," McLaughlin said.
"We serve as a conduit between the enforcing agencies and the community."