Local organizers have kicked off a membership drive to restart a San Luis Obispo County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - better known as the NAACP.
Nipomo resident Reverend Stephen Vines is one of the chapter’s key organizers, as he was 30 years ago.
"There used to be a chapter, we started it in the mid-'80s and then by the mid-'90s, I guess the chapter went into inactive [status] and we are in the process of bringing it back now," Vines said.
The interracial organization was founded at the turn of the 20th century by scholar W.E.B Du Bois and others in response to a 1908 race riot in Missouri and ongoing lynchings of African-Americans across the country.
"The NAACP is the oldest social justice organization in the United State, it was started in 1909. And the program is to fight discrimination and segregation, that’s our major goal and objective," Vines said.
Chapters are structured around elected officers and in the San Luis Obispo chapter, members will be organized into 16 committees, each focused on a different topic such as housing, employment, police relations, the youth program and higher education.
"We deal with all the areas of community where segregation and discrimination can happen and we act as advocates for the victim or getting the institution or the situation dealt with," Vines said.
On Friday, Vines met with San Luis Obispo mayor Heidi Harmon to garner support for resurrecting the county-wide chapter. Harmon told KCBX she signed up for a membership.
"Now more than ever we need organizations like the NAACP and others to stand together to ensure that the civil rights we have fought so hard for continue to be honored and that we continue to support marginalized communities," Harmon wrote in an email. "We are one of the lowest diversity communities in an otherwise very diverse state, and I'm hoping that the NAACP will be in essential part of inviting more people from diverse backgrounds into our community."
The organization welcomes members of any background. Having been founded by individuals of varied ethnic heritages and religions, the NAACP is focused on civil rights for all Americans.
"We’re the national advancement for people of color, and everybody’s of color, because color is a matter of having melanin, and 99.9 percent of people have melanin, so it’s really open to all races - if there is such a thing, there’s only one race, the human race, but it’s open to all different communities," Vines said.
Members of the chapter’s leadership community have been meeting in south San Luis Obispo County to organize a rechartering of the chapter, and say they are planning upcoming mixers in other parts of the county in the coming months. Currently, they have about 50 registered members, and they need 60 to officially recharter. The membership drive launched this weekend continues through March 15.
Ultimately, Vines says he hopes the NAACP’s San Luis Obispo County Chapter will boast 500 members, and work actively for social justice for all. For the first year, members will work on connecting the area's social justice organizations to focus energy.
"Our goal and objective is really to bring the community together, so that we can know about each other and begin to work through the bigger issues of social justice, because one person can’t have justice unless we all have it. Freedom is something that we all have to buy into," Vines said.
There are currently about 165 NAACP chapters active in California. On the Central Coast, chapters are established in Santa Maria/Lompoc and Seaside.
Find out more at the San Luis Obispo County chapter’s Twitter page @NACCPSLO or email firstname.lastname@example.org.