Michael Nelson has work to do — plenty of work.
As president of the Cleveland chapter of the NAACP since October, Nelson has ambitious plans to re-establish a historic strength: hard-hitting litigation.
"Our job is civil rights and making sure we hold organizations, communities and government's feet to the fire when they violate those rights," says Nelson, an attorney and former co-chair of the organization's legal redress committee. "On the other side is advising them so they don't violate rights. So we're both a friend and a foe."
But first, there are some basics to address — residue from two years of organizational decay and infighting — like figuring out how many people are actually members. Many register with the national office without notifying the local one, says Nelson. Some on the member rolls are now dead.
"I couldn't tell you," says Nelson, who predicts about 2,000 actual members. "But that's just my best guess."
The branch was in such disarray that the national office actually ran the very election Nelson won. But now that he's in office, Nelson is drafting a two-year strategic plan, which includes raising approximately $200,000 for professional staff, office space and an executive director.
"We're going to look at a political model," he says. That means developing fundraisers, such as a "songs of the civil rights movement" event, at various levels.
In addition to weighing in on education, arts, mental health and gun violence, Nelson expects to guide the NAACP toward a more substantive role in the police reform process.
"Because the branch was in chaos, it didn't play the role it should have," he says. "We were not [there] with a broad policy-based position. We were just happy to be in the meetings."
Nelson envisions NAACP community forums to hold the consent decree monitoring team and Cleveland Community Police Commission accountable, which could include potential legal action. "We need to make sure there's subpoena and enforcement power within this commission," he says. "If not, then it's a waste of time."