“And it really gets down to an issue of class. The poor and the poorest of the poor tend to be the ones that are being missed by the census,”
Mfume delivering a speech at NOAA during Black History Month, 2005 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Frizzel Gerald Gray was born on this day in Tuner Station, Dundalk just outside of Baltimore, Maryland in 1948. He is 64 years old.
He is the oldest of four siblings. His father left the family when Gray was a 11 and his mother, Mary Elizabeth Gray, raised the children as best she could as a single mother. She died of cancer when he was 16.
“After she died of cancer, things spun out of control.” Mfume quit high school during his second year and went to work to help support his sisters. At times he worked as many as three different jobs in a single week.” [Kweisi Mfume Biography. Encyclopedia of the World Biography
He began to hang out on the corner drinking with friends to blow off steam. He admits to hanging with the wrong crowd. He could feel his life spiraling out of control as he was arrested on suspicion of theft “Because” he said in a U.S. News and World Report interview ” I happened to be black and happened to be young.” And soon found himself the teenaged parent of five children.
But on a July night in the late 60s all that changed. He felt something come over him and he stepped away from the corner and toward the future. He spent “the rest of the night in prayer, then proceeded to earn his high-school diploma and pursue a college degree.” [IBID] He changed his name to Kweisi Mfume, a phrase that means “conquering son of kings” in Ghana.
He began to work in radio, first as a volunteer than as an announcer. When his college, Morgan State University opened its own radio station Mfume became the program director.
Flag of Baltimore, Maryland. Image created by uploader based on images found at crwflags.com and nava.org, as well as other images found on the web. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
He parlayed his popularity on the Radio and in Baltimore’s African-American community into politics in 1978 when he ran for Baltimore City Council. There he became a vocal critic of Mayor William Donald Schaefer whom he accused of ignoring poor neighborhoods. Eventually Mfume learned the three-pronged art of negotiation, compromise and coalition building.
DSC_0120 (Photo credit: owillis)
In 1986 he ran for U.S. House of Representatives and won a seat in Congress. He worked on the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs and later on farming and zoning issues. He maintained a strong tie to Baltimore City and the residents that lived in the inner city.
By his fourth term, Mfume had enough influence to become chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, a group in Congress that supports the interests of African-Americans. Soon after his election as chairman, Mfume and the Caucus presented a list of demands to President Bill Clinton (1946–), most of them having to do with federal aid to cities and the poor. [IBID]
In 1996 Mfume left Congress and became the president of the NAACP (the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He successfully managed the organization’s financial issues and illuminated the NAACP’s $4.5 million debt. He worked to address “affordable health care, conservation, voting reform, and hate crimes.” [IBID.] He helped raise over $90 million and created the NAACP’s National Corporate Diversity Project during his tenure at the organization. His term at the NAACP ended on January 1, 2005.
Kwesi Mfume, Fmr Prez of NAACP (Photo credit: Youth Radio)
Mfume made an unsuccessful bid for a U.S. Senate seat. Although he remains active as a political supporter and organizer he has not run for public office since. Currently he serves on a number of boards of public and private institutions such as the National Advisory Council on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Platform Committee of the Democratic National Convention and the National Advisory Council of Boy Scouts of America. He actively lectures at…
Colleges, Universities, Corporations, and Bar Associations across the country on corporate diversity, compliance, inclusion, disparities in health care, tolerance and the new challenges of gender and race. [kweisimfume.com