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New leader vows she'll bring 'new generation' to NAACP

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NAACP elects new leader
  • 44-year-old new chairwoman wants to stress NAACP as 'multi-cultural, multi-racial"
  • Roslyn Brock, a health care executive, says she brings special health expertise
  • Choice of Brock is praised by historian, former chairwoman of U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The new chairwoman for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, one of the oldest civil rights groups in the nation, said Sunday she'll work to bring a new generation into the organization.

Roslyn Brock, a health care executive and former NAACP vice chair, was selected to fill the seat left by Julian Bond, a civil rights leader who has held the post since 1998. Brock, 44, is the youngest person to ever serve in the position.

"I want to get the word out that the NAACP is alive and well, and that we are a multi-cultural, multi-racial organization," Brock said on CNN's "Sunday Morning."

"It is our goal to extend a broader net, to encourage all Americans who believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to come and join us."

Another goal, Brock said, is to ensure that the policies, programs and politics of the NAACP "are relevant to a new generation of human and civil rights activists, and to get young people involved."

Brock has worked with the organization for more than 25 years in various roles, including as a youth board member and president of its Youth and College State Conference, according to the NAACP. She is also a vice president at Bon Secours Health Systems in Marriottsville, Maryland.

That background, she said, makes health care one of her priorities.

"I'm most concerned about the 47 million people in the nation who are uninsured. I would hope that our Congress, working with the [Obama] administration, would recommit themselves to ensure comprehensive and affordable health care for all Americans," Brock said.

Another task the group needs to tackle, she said, is to tighten up its policy statements and "advocate for specific policy legislation that move forward a progressive agenda," especially in the areas of health care, education reform and jobs.

"We are most concerned about those individuals who are vulnerable in American society and we'll be a strong advocate for them," Brock added.

Her perspective -- that of a younger leader -- will help move the 101-year-old organization forward, said Mary Frances Berry, former chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

"I think it's a great decision by the board because it changes the leadership intergenerationally," Berry told CNN on Saturday. "Her views will respect those of a post-protest civil rights generation."

The sit-ins and marches demanding racial equality decades ago have been replaced with social tussles disproportionately affecting non-white communities, she said. Such issues include unemployment, foreclosures and incarceration rates, and Brock will have to address those in moving the NAACP forward, Berry said.

"They've got to focus on the problems that people at the grass roots have," she said.

Brock made history in February 2001 when she was unanimously elected vice chair of the NAACP National Board of Directors at the age of 35, making her the youngest and first woman to get the job.

"She's very different from Julian. But the fact that she's younger, vibrant, very dynamic -- I think it's great," said historian Patricia A. Sullivan, whose book, "Lift Every Voice," chronicled the history of the NAACP. "It's an important position, and I think having someone like her in that position says something."

Bond, a stalwart of the civil rights movement, helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, known for its student sit-ins in the early 1960s, and served as the first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He served in both houses of the Georgia Legislature, totaling two decades in office, before leading the NAACP as chairman.

The 70-year-old civil rights leader had indicated he was ready to leave the organization in 2008, but stayed on in 2009 as the NAACP celebrated its 100th anniversary.

At the time, there was talk about whether the organization was still relevant in what some observers called a "post-racial" United States. John McWhorter, a linguist and conservative political commentator, spelled it out in a February 2009 column titled, "If the NAACP ceased to exist tomorrow, would it have a significant effect on black America?"

For Bond, the answer was obvious.

"We have for the first time a black man who can open the doors to Air Force One, but we now know his children couldn't go to a pool in Philadelphia," Bond told CNN in July, referring to a decision by a suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, swim club to revoke privileges of a largely minority day care center last year.

"So, as long as this disparity exists, we're not the national association for the advancement of one colored person, we want all colored people to advance," he continued. "And for us, people come in all colors -- black, brown, yellow, everything. We want everyone to advance, everyone to progress, and until that's true, the NAACP is going to be here."

To ensure it will be here, the organization has showcased youthful leaders among its ranks -- most notably tapping Benjamin Todd Jealous as its president in 2008. At 35, Jealous was the youngest ever to hold the post at the NAACP.

Berry, who now teaches history at the University of Pennsylvania, was on the NAACP search committee at the time.

"The organization is clearly doing what every organization should do -- they should renew their leadership and reach out to the next generation," Berry said Friday. "Otherwise they'll die."

It will be important for the NAACP to engage youth, says author Michelle Alexander, especially in challenging high incarceration rates of blacks. In 2008, black males were imprisoned at a rate six and a half times higher than whites, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

"I think it's important to give the young people opportunities to be meaningfully engaged in organizing and give them leadership opportunities," said Alexander, author of "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness." "There is a tremendous amount of resignation today, particularly in poor communities of color. It's become accepted today that this is just the way things are."

In his speech on the 100th anniversary of the NAACP, President Obama said "the pain of discrimination is still felt in America" among African-Americans, Latinos and Muslim Americans.

"Even as we inherit extraordinary progress that cannot be denied; even as we marvel at the courage and determination of so many plain folks -- we know that too many barriers still remain," he said.

CNN's Samira Simone and Khadijah Rentas contributed to this report.