Thursday April 26, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- In 1980, the average cost of a house was $69,000; the medium wage was $12,500; and a new car could cost about $7,200.

Fast-forward 32 years and things have most definitely changed. How ever, to Maggie Adams of Pittsfield, a former president of the NAACP chapter in the Berkshires, there will always be social issues that defy the test of time. This list includes combating discriminatory policies and behaviors in the housing and job markets, promoting equal education, and safeguarding the interests of veterans, she said.

"A group of us came together and found out what we needed to do," said Adams, who first became active with the NAACP as a teen in 1955 and led a reorganization of the group in 1980. "We were the watchdogs, and with the help of the national office we chose our focus. If someone felt they were discriminated in a job, we would write up that case and send it to the (Springfield) office, and if need be they would come to Pittsfield."

Today, the Berkshire NAACP chap ter is inactive due to dwindled membership, but there is a growing effort to change that. An initial meeting was held this past March at the Second Congregational Church in Pittsfield, and a second one on April 25. Through this process, Adams and others like the Rev. Willard Durant of Pittsfield, another past president, have been called upon to share their belief in the NAACP's relevancy.

Despite the many past achievements of the group -- which included protest marches against local lunch counters in the 1960s, successful voter registration drives, and advocating for diverse product offerings in local stores, to name a few -- the question of the chapter's relevance today is something both Adams and Dur ant say they've heard -- and readily counter.

"The fact of the matter is, you need a local voice," Durant said. "Some small group of people who can speak with authority. The NAACP is a very important tool."

Adams adds that the NAACP works for change step by step, an approach that may frustrate those who want to see instant results.

"We're dealing with a different generation," she said. "They're very short on patience."

The NAACP's methods have gotten results in the past -- and have appealed to a wide range of people.

"The rules back then might have been old-fashioned, but it was fair play and (based on) unselfishness," Adams said. "There was an awareness and everyone was involved."

Indeed, Durant points to the chapter's past objectives, which spurred a multicultural membership, a fact that many today may not know about.

"The majority of the NAACP was white," said Durant, who was active with the group in the 1970s. "Some people know, but very few would actually say that was the case."

Durant said that today's NAACP chapter should continue to reflect all people coming together for a common good.

To the younger generation, he said it's important for them to understand that change is a process.

"You have to find out what the needs of the people are and that's not going to happen at the first meeting," he said.

Adams also added that there might be a sentiment among some who don't want to involve outside agencies in their issues for fear of backlash.

"With the younger generation, they don't want to get anyone involved. They just want to leave it alone as it is. I say to them, ‘It's not about you.' "

This column is a collaboration between Berkshires Week and Multicultural Bridge to encourage voices from all backgrounds in these pages.

For information on the NAACP in Berkshire County, call Gwendolyn Van Sant at Multicultural Bridge at (413) 274-1001.