Organizers working to establish a Lebanon County branch of the NAACP are getting closer to making their goal a reality.
The group has recruited about 130 or so dues-paying members so far and is seeking to expand membership even more.
Next on the agenda is an Oct. 1 virtual meeting to gauge members’ interests and needs, said chief organizer Beth Aminov.
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is the largest and most prominent civil rights organization in the U.S., with more than 2,200 units and branches across the country and 2 million activists, according to NAACP.org.
“Our mission is to secure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights in order to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and well-being of all persons,” the website states.
A graduate of Cedar Crest High School and mother of four, Aminov, 53, worked 17 years overseas before coming back to Lebanon County in 2015.
Her idea of starting an NAACP branch here began in late 2018, she said, when Aminov, who is white, saw one of her sons, who is African American, being racially targeted.
Aminov found out then that Lebanon County didn’t have an NAACP chapter, and spoke to others with similar experiences.
“We do have a lot of problems in Lebanon County,” she said, although it’s a county with many good people.
“That was kind of the catalyst for me,” she said, to do this not just for her son and family but for the community.
Much of the issue is the need to recognize and correct biases, which we all have to some extent, Aminov said. “I’d like to be part of the solution.”
Blanding Watson, president of the Lancaster NAACP, has served as her mentor through the process, she said.
In addition to Aminov, other organizing committee members are Amaury Abreu, the Rev. Tony Fields, Maija Miettinen, Christopher Norwood, Michael Schroeder, Rafael Torres and Cornell Wilson.
Abreu, a young entrepreneur who operates his own public relation business, moved to Lebanon County from the Dominican Republic five years ago. “My main goal is to get more representation in education for people of color,” he said.
Pastor of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Fredericksburg, Fields said he was approached by Aminov at an oration July 5 in Annville of Frederick Douglass’ famous speech “What to a Slave Is the Fourth of July?”
“I was ecstatic,” he said, about the effort to create a local NAACP branch. “I think every county should have one.”
The launching of the NAACP chapter comes in the aftermath of nationwide protests following the death of George Floyd, while in custody, by a Minneapolis police officer.
What drew her in, Aminov said, was the NAACP focus on criminal justice reform. “What they do is proactive,” she said. “They work at the system level,” with policymakers and lawmakers.
The NAACP also doesn’t make political endorsements.
Public safety and criminal justice are among the organization’s six “game changers.” The others are economic sustainability, education, health, voting rights and political representation, and expanding youth and young adult engagement.
Kenneth Huston, president of the Pennsylvania NAACP, told the Lebanon Daily News last month that there’s a “desperate need” for a unit in Lebanon.
“We’re more than just those that come in and put out the fire. We try to prevent the fire from happening in our respective communities,” Huston is quoted as saying.
Lebanon County is much more racially diverse now than when she was growing up, Aminov said, but that’s created division.
“We’re hoping to bring people together” and create systemic change, she said.
The board of directors and committees will include Black, Latino and white members, she said, “to be representative of the community we’re serving.”
“We want this to be a positive for the white community as well,” Aminov said. “Having equal justice across the board should be something we all want.”
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Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article included information about officer selection, which is not planned yet.