Bruce Gordon

July 4, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


GWEN IFILL: Bruce Gordon is the new chief executive of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, a former telecommunications executive. Mr. Gordon succeeds Kweisi Mfume, who is now running for the United States Senate. Welcome, Mr. Gordon.

BRUCE GORDON: Thank you. Nice to be here.

GWEN IFILL: For those who have been following the NAACP for the last couple of decades we think of it being led by politicians or civil rights activities or preacher. You’re none of the above at least to the naked eye. What does that signify?

BRUCE GORDON: I don’t think it signifies anything other than the organization looked for the best qualified person who could lead it at this stage in its history. They chose me.

GWEN IFILL: Your business background is important in that choice?

BRUCE GORDON: I think so because the organization wants to be effectively operated. It needs to raise money. It needs to be fiscally disciplined. It needs to attract new members, and these are things that I think I learned to do during my time at Verizon.

GWEN IFILL: The things that you just outlined are pretty significant. Those are big needs that you’re talking about. Does that mean that the NAACP in any way is at a turning point in its existence?

BRUCE GORDON: I think you could argue that a civil rights organization like the NAACP is always at a turning point so to speak. But now is a good time for the organization to get ready for the next two decades and addressing building endowments, addressing building the size of the membership base are things that will really put it in good stead for the years ahead.

GWEN IFILL: I read a story where the head of one of the local NAACP chapters said he spends a lot of time going to visit schools. When he goes to the schools he plays a game with young students saying to them what does NAACP stand for and that you’ll give them a prize and, if they can say it correctly. He seldom has to give out prizes because the kids confuse it with the NCAA. The future are these children — how do you begin to suggest to them that the NAACP is still relevant?

BRUCE GORDON: Gwen, I think that you’ve really identified an issue that will get a lot of my attention when I get started. I think that what we first do is attract 20- to 35-year-olds because they are underrepresented in the membership base of the organization and therefore underrepresented in the leadership of the organization. I think I have some ideas on how to do that.

And as we do that, we’re going to start to broaden the focus, not change the focus but broaden the focus to address issues that this particular demographic cares about. And as that happens, I believe we will find a more vibrant NAACP, a more relevant NAACP, and then maybe we can start to deal with the children in the schools that you’ve heard are visited.

GWEN IFILL: Let’s talk about the financial situation of the NAACP. Is the organization currently in the red or in the black?

BRUCE GORDON: The organization is in the black only because it’s got a modest reserve that it’s relying upon. The fact is if you look at the organization’s ability to balance its budget, it’s been a struggle the last two years in terms of annual operating finances.

So what we’ve got to do, as I said earlier, is to build the kind of discipline; and keep in mind that when you increase membership, you’re increasing the revenue flow from those new members, so getting an annual revenue flow that exceeds what the organization is now seeing and expanding or building an endowment that provides sort of the stability that the organization needs is really where I’m going to spend my time and focus my attention.

GWEN IFILL: Last I heard the membership is about leveled off at about 500,000, which is about where it was in the 1940s. So how do you jump-start that?

BRUCE GORDON: Well, one of the things I will do is take advantage of relationships I have with business leaders across this country who are already calling me and telling me how excited they are by my appointment and what it might mean for the future of the organization, so the memberships are actually already starting to come in.

But for the next year, as I said earlier, I am really going to focus on attracting 20- to 35-year-olds. That means using some of the people that they listen to who, by the way, have been award recipients at the annual Image Awards. I’m going to reach out to those people and get them to be spokespeople. I’m going to use the Internet. This generation is electronically oriented. We’ve got to use a technology platform to reach out to this segment and really bring them in, in significant numbers, and I actually think that this is a very doable thing.

GWEN IFILL: The NAACP has gained the reputation over the last several years of being aggressively partisan. President Bush became the first president since — sitting president since Herbert Hoover not to attend and speak to your convention. He didn’t meet with your predecessor until December of 2004 for the very first time. What do you do to erase that image or is that even an image you want to erase?

BRUCE GORDON: It is not an image that I want to continue. As I look forward, which I’m absolutely doing, my plan is to reach out to the White House. I think I need to build a bridge to this current administration. This does not say that the base of the organization needs to move to the right. This does not mean that the policies of this organization need to change.

It simply means that when you have an organization like the NAACP, which has been in place for close to 100 years and done the things that it’s done, there ought to be a relationship with the administration. It doesn’t mean we have to agree on every issue. But I am absolutely certain that there is common ground that can be identified for us to collaborate on and build a constructive relationship going forward.

GWEN IFILL: Julian Bond who is the chairman of the NAACP, and I guess in some ways your boss, has been one of the harshest critics of this administration. How do you reconcile what the chairman says and what you say?

BRUCE GORDON: I think that Julian and I will be very aligned in what we both say. I think that Julian would say to you that he’s not as much a critic of the administration as he is for some of the policies that are not consistent with what the NAACP stands for, but Julian and I have talked this through.

I think we’re going to be a very good team. I think his history as a civil rights leader is very valuable and will continue to be valuable. And I think that my perspective as a person who has worked in corporate America, worked to build bridges, I think that we will collaborate, we will be consistent and we will make progress.

GWEN IFILL: It sounds like you’re taking an organization, which has gained a reputation and has built a reputation of being focused on social inequality issues and changing it into one that talks more about economic inequality issues? Is that a correct interpretation?

BRUCE GORDON: There’s no question that I will try to expand and put more energy behind what I’ll call economic equality. Employment, getting corporations to really adopt very productive and successful diversity programs and black enterprise just identified 30 companies who are doing just that, which says to me it can be done. We just need more.

Access to capital continues to be an issue in the African-American community. I will focus on that. Really building the base of minority suppliers who get to do business with corporate America is yet another priority of mine. So, yes, economic equality will become far more visible as a set of initiatives we will pursue.

GWEN IFILL: And politics by the way side?

BRUCE GORDON: Politics, to me, can never go by the wayside. I have said to many people over the last week or so, I intend to go where the trouble is. That says to me once we identify a problem, we will find its solution. If its solution is embedded in political intervention, so be it.

If its solution is embedded in building relationships with Wall Street and corporate America, so be it. I’ll find the trouble, I’ll go to the trouble, we’ll find the solution, and utilize any and every mechanism necessary to solve those problems.

GWEN IFILL: Bruce Gordon, thank you so much for joining us. Best to you.

BRUCE GORDON: Gwen, my pleasure. Thank you very much.