Benjamin Jealous to Step Down as Head of NAACP

The leader of the historic civil rights organization says he will leave in January to spend more time with his wife and two children.

Posted: 09/08/2013 10:02 PM EDT
Ben Jealous, NAACP

Benjamin Todd Jealous, who has overseen a dramatic improvement of the finances, membership and visibility of the NAACP, said he will step down as head of the nation’s oldest civil rights organization in January.

Jealous, 40, who has led the organization for five years, said he was leaving the NAACP to spend more time with his family, saying that he had spent nearly 150 days away from home and his wife and two children since 2008.

“It has been a sprint over the last five years,” Jealous said in an interview with BET.com. “Having won that sprint, you have to decide whether you want to run a marathon. I felt that the organization is operating at a new level to run a marathon. We’re larger and more powerful financially now than we were a few years ago. I thought it was time to find our next leader.”

Jealous said he had become increasingly unhappy about the time he was spending away from his family, adding that he had promised his young daughter some years ago that he would not work such grueling hours longer than five years.

“As a man, I can either set up my daughter to expect me to keep my promises or to expect me to break them,” Jealous said. “I decided to keep my promise to my daughter.”

In addition to spending more time with his family, Jealous says he would like to teach at a university and also plans to start a political action committee, he told USA Today, that would be like an "EMILY's List for people of color."

Since becoming the head of the NAACP, Jealous has become a constant presence on television news programs, speaking on a host of civil rights issues from voting rights and stop-and-frisk to the death penalty and criminal justice reform.

The NAACP has come a long way since 2008, when the 35-year-old Jealous became the organization’s youngest leader. For one thing, its finances, which had long been troubled, experienced an increase in revenue, from $25 million in 2008 to $46 million last year. At the same time, the number of individual donors increased eight times in the same period.

Jealous noted that the NAACP is now more sophisticated in terms of technology, with 420,000 mobile subscribers and an email list of 1.3 million, up from 175,000 five years ago. In addition, he takes pride in the fact that the organization registered nearly 375,000 new voters, more than twice the number it registered in 2008.

Jealous said the decision to step down was not an easy one. But it was centered on his consideration for his seven-year-old daughter, his 14-month-old son and his wife, Lia Epperson, who teaches constitutional law at American University in Washington. D.C.

 “Was it tough? Sure. It was a very tough decision,” he said. “But the reality is that I’ve spent five years waking up every day, honored and excited to lead the most courageous army of volunteers and workers this nation has ever known.”

He added: “A person has many opportunities to serve. But you only have one opportunity to be there with your kids when they need you. It’s time to give back to my daughter and my son.”

No successor has been named for Jealous, who will formally announce his decision Monday morning in a conference call with reporters and Roslyn Brock, who chairs the NAACP's board of directors.

“Under his leadership, the NAACP has built a highly competent staff that will carry our mission forward and meet the civil rights challenges of the 21st century," said Brock in a statement. "Our board, staff and volunteer leaders throughout the country deeply appreciate his sacrifice, and will continue to implement our game-changing goals for the next half century that include the restoration of Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, implementing Trayvon’s Law, bolstering civic engagement efforts and ensuring our community is enrolled in the Affordable Care Act exchanges.”

Joyce Jones contributed to this article.

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(Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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