NAACP President Tells of His Respect for the Military at Awards Ceremony
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample
American Forces Press Service
MIAMI, July 18, 2003 NAACP president and chief executive officer Kweisi Mfume told an audience of military and Defense Department personnel that he envies those who wear the military uniform.
"It conjures up in me the kind of respect that I will never adequately be able to describe," he said during his address at his organization's 28th annual Armed Services and Veterans Affairs awards dinner July 16.
The event honored the military and recognized service personnel who worked to promote equal opportunity over the past year. The awards dinner has become part of the NAACP's annual convention now in its 94th year.
Mfume said two poignant events left a lasting impression on his life and transformed his thinking about the military.
He said the first happened when his grandfather died. His grandfather was a World War I veteran who loved the military but was deeply saddened after not being allowed to march in welcome-home military parades because of segregation. He said his grandmother told him that his grandfather "cried in such a way that she (too) cried."
The other event that garnered his respect for the military, Mfume noted, was when a close friend was killed in Vietnam. His friend had been called to duty just four months after registering with the Selective Service. Mfume, too, had registered during that time, but his number in the draft's lottery system was never called.
Mfume said he tells these stories when he talks to young people, particularly those in colleges ROTC programs. "Maybe my role, or the reason I was left behind was to share with them that story and to encourage them to do what they believe in their heart that is right; to stand up for a nation, although it did not stand up for them early on -- it does now -- and to serve their country and to hear it from somebody who never had that privilege," he explained.
"So for me this night is very special in a way that some of you will never understand," he said. "There are no words, as I said earlier, to adequately describe those memories I live with."
Mfume also delivered a personal message to service members from the thousands of NAACP members, saying that the organization cares for and is concerned about those in uniform. "We cry with your families when we hear about the tragedies. We stand with them at funerals. We find ways to remember in our own ways. We share the stories with our children," he said. "We believe that men and women who do what you do are not only special but deserve a special place in the hearts of all of us."