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NAACP chief wants some companies boycotted

In his first keynote convention speech as NAACP president, Bruce S. Gordon said Monday that black Americans should end “victim-like thinking” and seize opportunities to help close gaps between the nation’s rich and poor.
Bruce S. Gordon, president and chief executive officer of the NAACP, speaks Sunday during the organization’s 97th convention in Washington. Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Even companies that make an effort to work with minority-owned businesses typically spend barely 5 percent of their contracting dollars with them, the NAACP president said Monday as his group released report cards on several industries.

Blacks shouldn’t spend money with companies that don’t hire them or advertise in their communities, NAACP President Bruce S. Gordon said.

“If corporations spend their money on us, we’ll spend our money with those corporations,” he said. “It’s real simple.”

Gordon’s comments were part of his first keynote convention speech as head of the civil rights group; he took over as president last August. More than 4,000 people are attending the 97th annual meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which runs through Thursday.

The NAACP has graded corporations since 1997 on how well they work with blacks in employment, charitable giving, advertising, contracting and community service. This year, the civil rights group looked at the telecommunications, lodging, finance, retail and auto industries.

Most companies did best on charitable giving and community service, and worst on hiring and contracting. Gordon said the contracting numbers were “totally unacceptable.”

Economic impact emphasized
A former division president at Verizon, Gordon said directing black consumer dollars will push companies to be more responsive.

“I have a pretty unique perspective — 35 years working for a corporation with a purchasing budget in the billions and billions of dollars, and a chance to observe internally how the procurement process works,” he said.

Telecommunications companies scored best with an overall B-minus grade.

For the second straight year, Atlanta-based BellSouth Corp. received the highest grade of any company — a 3.5 out of a possible 4.0. The company pushes its managers to look for vendors and employees who are black, said Valencia I. Adams, a BellSouth vice president.

“They take it to heart and really work hard on it,” she said.

Wachovia Corp. and SunTrust Banks were the highest-ranked banks with a 3.17 score.

Wachovia got a perfect score on community relations. The company pays all employees to donate four hours a month to local charities, and employees volunteered for 650,000 hours in 2005, said G. Dewey Norwood Jr., an assistant vice president.

Five companies under fire
Of the 50 companies contacted by the NAACP, five ignored the survey, including four retailers: Dillard’s Inc.; Kohl’s Corp.; Sears, Roebuck and Co.; and Target Corp. All were given Fs for not answering. The other company that failed to answer was Excel, a telecommunications company; it also received an F.

Gordon called on black Americans to stop shopping at Target, in particular, until they answer the NAACP’s questions — though he stopped short of calling the action a boycott.

“They didn’t even care to respond to our survey,” he said. “Stay out of their stores.”

The NAACP focused on Target because it is one of the nation’s most prominent national retailers, said John C. White, NAACP spokesman. However, the group does not plan to picket or leaflet Target, but will rely on word of mouth, he said.

A Target spokeswoman said via e-mail that the company opted out of the survey “because Target views diversity as being inclusive of all people from all different backgrounds, not just one group.” The NAACP survey asks only about black Americans.

She added that minorities make up 40 percent of Target employees and 23 percent of all officials and managers.

During his keynote address, Gordon said black Americans should end their “victim-like thinking” and seize opportunities to help close gaps between the nation’s rich and poor.

“We may not have all the power that we want, but we have all the power that we need,” Gordon said. “All we have to do is believe it and use it.”

Quotations from Chairman Bond
His words echoed those of NAACP Chairman Julian Bond, who spoke Sunday and blasted the war in Iraq and attacks on voting rights — even as he urged President Bush to attend the group’s convention.

“This year the convention has come to the president and we hope and pray he is coming to us,” said Bond, speaking about a mile from the White House.

Bush has skipped the conventions since taking office in 2001, making him the first sitting president in decades not to have spoken to the NAACP. His schedule for Wednesday lists an event with the notation “TBA,” or to be announced.

Bond said Bush’s presence would show that he hears the concerns of African-Americans. “We have values, we vote our values, and we demand to be valued in return,” he said.

Bond urged lawmakers to raise the minimum wage, condemned attacks on school integration and said the war in Iraq “has weakened rather than strengthened America’s defenses, including our levees.”

He added: “Our troops may be fighting to secure democracy abroad, but we can’t secure our democracy at home.”