Benjamin Todd Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), gave insight into building leadership skills when he spoke to a group of Wharton School of Business students last week.
During his lecture, Jealous highlighted how he utilizes his previous career experiences to lead the NAACP.
“As an organizer, one of the things that you learn about leadership is you cannot lead unless you can listen. Your job as an organizer is ultimately to discern not just what the problems are, but what the people believe the problems to be – what they want to change,” Jealous told the group who packed the event, held at University of Pennsylvania’s Huntsman Hall.
Jealous addressed the importance of having courage in leadership.
“Leadership without courage is dead. You cannot lead a movement, you cannot lead a corporation (and) you certainly cannot lead a start-up without courage. You’ve got to be able to slow down and listen,” Jealous stressed.
Appointed in 2008 at the age of 35, Jealous is the youngest person to lead the civil rights organization. As president of the NAACP, Jealous opened national programs on education, health and environmental justice. He has increased the organization’s capacity to work on economic and voting rights issues.
He began his career as a young community organizer in Harlem in 1991 with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund while working his way through college.
“If you want to be a CEO, you got to know how to raise money. People give money to brands that are led by people they can believe in and they won’t believe in you unless you can listen to them. They won’t believe in you unless you have the courage of your conviction, unless you really believe what you say and you can back it up with a plan to deliver what you promised them.”
Jealous said a combination of the skills he learned as an organizer, the ability to take risks and form partnerships helped boost the NAACP’s revenue stream.
He took over the organization’s helm at a time when its revenue had fallen from $44 million to $20 million.
“We’ve been able to take this organization and increase its revenues by 10 percent or more, five years in a row. Last year the increase was 21 percent,” he said.
The NAACP’s donor base has increased from 16,000 individuals per year to more than 120,000. The organization’s membership has increased three years in a row for the first time in more than 20 years and its online activists have swelled from 175,000 to more than 600,000, according to Jealous.
Jealous is a graduate of Columbia and Oxford University, the past president of the Rosenberg Foundation and served as the founding director of Amnesty International’s US Human Rights Program.
While working with Amnesty, he authored the widely-cited report “Threat and Humiliation – Racial Profiling, Domestic Security and Human Rights in the United States.”
Over the past two decades, Jealous has helped organize successful campaigns to abolish the death penalty for children, stop Mississippi’s governor from turning a public historically Black university into a prison and pass federal legislation against prison rape.
In 1993, after being suspended for organizing student protests at Columbia University, Jealous went to work as an investigative reporter for Mississippi’s Jackson Advocate newspaper.
His journalistic investigations have been credited with helping to save the life of a white inmate who was being threatened for helping convict corrupt prison guards, free a Black farmer who was being framed for arson and spur official investigations into law enforcement corruption.
Jealous is a fifth-generation leader of the NAACP who hails from a long line of American freedom fighters. His mother, who descends from two Black Reconstruction statesmen, desegregated Baltimore’s Western High School for Girls in 1954 as a member of the NAACP’s Youth and College Division. His father was one of a small number of white men jailed during the Congress of Racial Equality’s efforts to desegregate Baltimore’s downtown business district.
He is married to Lia Epperson Jealous, a civil rights lawyer and professor of constitutional law.
Jealous’ address was part of Wharton’s Leadership Lectures Series which provides a forum for senior executives to address leadership issues and to share their insights with Wharton students.
(Photo: NAACP President and CEO Benjamin T. Jealous gave the Wharton Leadership Lecture at University of Pennsylvania’s Huntsman Hall. PHOTO BY ALYSSA CWANGER FOR THE WHARTON SCHOOL)