The historic civil rights organization, the NAACP, has as its 2022 theme, “The Year of Collective Power.” The Defender spoke with NAACP Houston Branch president, Dr. James Dixon, pastor of Community of Faith Church, about how the organization’s national theme and connected five national goals will play out in the Greater Houston area.
DEFENDER: What does the NAACP 2022 theme “The Year of Collective Power” mean to you personally and for Black Houston collectively?
PASTOR JAMES DIXON: The idea is that collectively, we have the power to solve problems in our community. Collectively, we have the power and the resourcefulness to create change. And collectively, we have the power to push ourselves into places of collective empowerment. In other words, we must understand that the idea of unifying behind goals and visions that will affect all of us, is intelligent. Because as Dr. King would put it, we are part of a fabric that is interwoven. We are not independent of each other. We are inextricably tied to one another’s destinies. And because of our mutual destinies, we should all be mutually dedicated and devoted and doing it together.
DEFENDER: Goal 1 – Block suppressive voting laws and, and push back against unjust, unconstitutional voting maps. How is that going to play out in the Houston area?
PASTOR JAMES DIXON: It’s again, working collectively with a broad group and number of organizations and likeminded organizations that understand that the right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and this Republic, which means it’s a sacred right. We must be able to organize, strategize and mobilize collectively to push back against laws, policies and practices that would jeopardize the right to vote. And, while we saw some of that happening last year, when the so-called voter suppression laws and bills were being pushed, we didn’t see enough of it. And that hurt our effort. We believe that if we are more strategic and more intentional about organizing collectively, strategizing collectively and mobilizing collectively, we become an unstoppable force. That means stepping outside of our comfort zones to have conversations with other leaders and other organizations that we don’t typically talk to, to try to win people over to the side of justice. What happens if we have leaders in the faith community who are not African-American, having a conversation with a Dr. Ed Young, with a Joel Osteen, and others, to say, “Can we have a conversation about the injustice of this law and the inhumanity in this law and around our common ideals of justice?” If we could do that, we’re expanding the collective on an issue. That’s courageous leadership. And that’s what we intend to do more of at the Houston NAACP, particularly as it relates to this kind of issue with voting rights. Right now, as we well know, we’ve got a filibuster that’s blocking the passing of the John Lewis Voter Rights Act. But where is the collective conversation?
DEFENDER: Goal 2 – Advocate for economic policies to assist Black entrepreneurs and workers to rebuild their lives as we recover from this economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
PASTOR JAMES DIXON: The fact that Harris County conducted a disparity study last year, and it produced results that says the county is woefully deficient in awarding contracts to minority-owned and women-owned businesses, it’s dreadful. We’re talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of 2%. Then, you start dealing with numbers like that across the board: METRO, Port of Houston, community colleges. So, we are right now engaging in a process with a collective. It’s Commissioner Rodney Ellis. It’s Commissioner Adrian Garcia. Judge Lina Hidalgo is a big proponent of doing these disparity studies so we can get the data. Dr. Steve Head at Lone Star College has just accepted the challenge to conduct the first disparity study Lone Star has ever done. HCC has never done a disparity study. Houston Independent School District has never done a disparity study as it relates to contractual procurement. The numbers are going to be woeful, but we’ve got to know the data. We should be having data-driven conversations, making data-driven decisions about how do we diminish the wealth gap.
DEFENDER: Goal 3 – Continue our call for reimagining policing, that brings an end to state-sanction brutality.
PASTOR JAMES DIXON: Nationwide, and that includes Houston, the relationships between the community and police is still not well. We still are dealing with the community’s distrust of the police. And that’s a dangerous place. We cannot have a civil society where law enforcement and the community are not working together. That bond of trust is very important. Thank God Chief Finner and his staff are trying to work on that. But it takes all of us working together. And we’ve got to continue to recruit officers from within our city, from within our own neighborhoods. People who understand our culture, understand our circumstances and who relate to us. We must continue to work to improve community/police relations.
DEFENDER: Goal 4 – Combat the spread of COVID-19 misinformation that is destroying the health, especially of communities of color.
PASTOR JAMES DIXON: Misinformation has been aplenty. But overcoming a pandemic requires collective learning, collective listening. In fact, on January 25, the NAACP hosted “A COVID Conversation” led by Dr. Joseph Gathe. Dr. Gathe is a member of our executive committee at the NAACP, but he’s also a nationally-renowned infectious disease specialist. And he led that conversation. We’ve got to continue to educate individuals, educate families and neighborhoods in our community about COVID, how to overcome it, how to respond to it. Because without right information, you make bad decisions.
DEFENDER: Goal 5 – Hold corporations accountable, especially social media and tech companies that refuse to remove hate from their platforms.
PASTOR JAMES DIXON: We must use our collective voices to challenge tech companies and social media providers because hate messaging affects mindsets. I tell people, “You don’t have to have a thousand snipers in your city to wreak havoc. Just one crazed mind, one unstable mind with a weapon in his or her hand who’s filled with hate, can cause damage. We’ve seen that time and time again. So, the responsibility that social media companies have and tech companies have is huge. And those who spew hate, those who encourage hate and violence must not be allowed to spread their venom through social media platforms and through other forms of public media.