BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Bruce Gordon, can you remember the first time somebody suggested you might even be a candidate for the presidency of the NAACP?
BRUCE GORDON, PRESIDENT & CEO, NAACP: I can. It was in early February and it happened very directly. I got a phone from a search firm. I happened to know the principal who ran the who runs the CEO practice at that firm, so he was a familiar person. He had called me on other occasions. And the call came just that way and it was certainly not something that I predicted.
LAMB: And what were you doing at the time?
GORDON: I was sitting in the back room of my apartment in Manhattan with my wife reading The New York Times, just having a nice, relaxed, retired day.
LAMB: You weren‘t working?
GORDON: No well, no. Not
LAMB: I mean, you didn‘t have a job anymore, you had retired?
GORDON: No, no, I retired at the end of 2003. I was retired for 18 months. I have since realized that I had gotten very good at it. Days went by the way I wanted them to, pretty much so on my schedule.
Now I do sit on a couple of corporate boards and some not-for-profit boards, so I‘m not a completely lazy guy. But I was clearly in the retirement mode and life was pretty good.
LAMB: What did you say to your wife when the phone call was over?
GORDON: I walked into my office to take the call, and when I came back I said, you won‘t believe what that call was just about. She looked up and said, what? And I said, it was Charles and he was calling to see whether I have an interest in the NAACP CEO job. What do you think I should do?
And of course she paused, her eyes were probably as big as mine at that point. And she said, whatever you want to do, I‘ll support. Guess you had better
LAMB: Now what was a guy at the time, what would you have been, 58?
LAMB: OK. But you had been retired for since 2003?
GORDON: As a matter of fact, actually, 59, 59. It was February this year, so I had just turned 59.
LAMB: How were able to retire at age whatever, 57?
GORDON: It wasn‘t hard, I had been in the industry for 35 years. I had
LAMB: What industry?
GORDON: The telecommunications industry, 35 years. It was a great run, a lot of success, a lot of rewarding experiences. But it‘s not quite this simple, but I almost woke up one day, I believe in timing, and said to myself, it‘s time to stop doing what I was doing. I didn‘t know what might come next. And had it been lifelong retirement, that would have been OK.
But it was really sort of a just a point in time in my life when I thought that I had sort of was time to close that chapter and do whatever came next. And here we sit.
LAMB: So you had that process before you said yes. So at what point did you say, this isn‘t a bad idea?
GORDON: Well, let me kind of help you to know a little bit more about me and how this whole thing unfolds. I come from a family of educators, people who have been involved in social service. I was a sociology major in undergrad school and I didn‘t expect to become a teacher, but there was a time when I thought I might become a social worker.
But if you sort of looked at my DNA and the inputs from my mother‘s side and my father‘s side, we, the Gordons and Scotts, did a lot of social service. And I always liked that kind of work.
And actually, even in going to working in corporate America, I didn‘t go there to become a businessman, so to speak, I went to corporate America because I believed that it was a career opportunity that was opening up for people of color.
It certainly was not available to my parents and their generation, but it was available to me. But my intention all along was to be a social change agent, a civil rights activist within the corporate environment. So that‘s kind a little bit about me and my background.
And as I sort of got into my work, I was bitten by the bug of telecommunications. It was very interesting. The industry morphed several times, so it wasn‘t, you know, sort of staid and consistent over 35 years.
I grew in responsibility and influence and I was able to use my influence to advance the cause of, in that environment, diversity. So that was sort of me and what I did. When I retired, as I said, it was just time, in my opinion.
I wasn‘t sure that I would stay retired. I wasn‘t looking for the next job or the next opportunity. But I will tell you this, you asked the question, you know, when did the call come?
Well, on another day when I was sitting in that same room reading the newspaper and watching the television, a news show came on and it was Kweisi Mfume announcing that he was stepping down as the CEO of NAACP.
And frankly, it was at that point that I really asked myself the first time, is that something you would like to do, Bruce? So the fact of the matter is, I had thought about this prior to the search firm actually calling.
LAMB: At the time you got the call, what did you know about the NAACP?
GORDON: I knew quite a bit about its history because my father was one of the founders of the Camden, New Jersey, branch of the NAACP. And as a very young child I was going off to those meetings, not because I really understood what was happening, but because, you know, he took me.
But I at least knew the organization, knew how far back it went, knew what it did. And certainly was a member, not an active member, but a dues-paying member, so to speak. So I was current in terms of the NAACP and its purpose and its mission.
I‘ve always respected the role of the organization, always valued its contribution, not only to black folks in America, but to all Americans, and viewed it as a very important institution that one should respect and revere.
LAMB: Was there competition? Did you have people running at the same time for the job once they started talking to you?
GORDON: I‘m sure that there was competition. I can‘t tell you anything about the competition because for the most part there was no discussion about who the other candidates might be.
But I knew the search firm well enough to know that they would do a very thorough job, would cast a very wide net. I didn‘t view myself as a slam dunk candidate. I thought that I had some skills and some background and experience that might be appealing to the NAACP.
But obviously I‘m a bit different than those who have been chosen before. So it wasn‘t clear to me that even if I wanted the NAACP that it would want Bruce Gordon.
LAMB: When you go into a room full of young kids, I don‘t know what age, high school, whatever, and there area kids of color, and you‘re there to give them a message, what‘s the first message you like to tell them?
GORDON: That anything is possible. I think that a young person‘s future can ought not be limited by what others tell them they can do. I think that it‘s very important to communicate a message that anything, literally, anything is possible, and that if you‘ve got the energy and the willingness to work hard at it that your future can be whatever you choose.
So that‘s always message number one, just to don‘t limit yourself. Because my parents gave me that message, my parents really hammered home to me that I ought not limit the possibilities, that I ought to think very broadly about what my future might have in store. And that was very good guidance that they passed on to me, and I try to pass it on to other young people.
LAMB: Born in Camden, New Jersey, how long did you stay there?
GORDON: I right through high school and I got out of college in 1968 and lived in Camden another couple of years. Camden was a great city to grow up in. You know, I look at Camden today, and Camden is often sort of the poster child for inner city decay and crime, and in certain cases, corruption.
But the fact of the matter is Camden has produced a lot successful people who have gone on to make their mark in this country, if not around the world. So Camden was good to me. Camden High was a great high school. My father was the principal of my junior high school, which was another interesting experience.
But if I just think about the school experience, from elementary to junior high school to high school, think about the friends that I made, I was talking to one of them just this weekend and I think I am one of few 59-soon-to-be-60-year-olds who still has as his very closest friends, the guys that he grew up with and went to junior high school with.
LAMB: Was it a mixed race school?
GORDON: It evolved. When I was born and lived in a community called Parkside, it was almost exclusively white. We weren‘t the first black family on the block, but we were probably the second or the third.
So elementary school I was the extreme minority. But as the suburban sprawl started to evolve and white flight occurred, then my neighborhood, which been predominantly white, transitioned to being predominantly black.
By the time I got out of high school, there were more black folks in my high school class then there were whites. So I really had an interesting experience of living in sort of a variety of racial mixes from elementary school straight through to high school graduation.
LAMB: How much did race play in your life back then?
GORDON: Race mattered a lot. Race mattered a lot. You‘ve got to think about the time frame. This is the late ‘50s and ‘60s. There were plenty of things that black folks still couldn‘t do even though it was an integrated environment, so to speak, there were still restaurants where we couldn‘t eat.
There were still communities where we couldn‘t live. There were plenty of things that smacked of the Jim Crow of the South environment. So I saw that. I recall my sister my older sister preparing to go to her senior prom and being disappointed that she couldn‘t go to sort of the after-prom places that some of her classmates would go to.
LAMB: In New Jersey?
GORDON: In New Jersey. Oh sure, I often think about some of the things that we used to do as a family. My dad was an instigator of sorts and every now and then we would get in the car on a Sunday and he would say, let‘s go out and scare some white folks.
And what he meant by that was we would get in the car in Camden and we would drive out to Cherry Hill, to all these new housing developments where many folks were moving to get away from us.
And we would pull into the parking lot, and this is back in the days when you had, you know, five or six of these sample homes along a major highway, we would pull into the parking lot, get out of the car, and invariably, if we went into house number one, by the time we got to house number four or five, they had closed down the development for the day.
And if you saw the stares that we got, there were plenty of people who were saying, who are they and why are they coming to look at this housing development? So you know people, I think, sometimes think that if you‘re in the North, all is well, the discrimination and Jim Crow was only in the South.
That was absolutely not the case. I had plenty of experiences with that.
LAMB: What did you think was going on?
GORDON: I knew what was going on. My folks were very open, very clear in making sure that we understood the environment we were in. While on one hand, they wanted us to not feel limited in terms of possibilities, they also wanted us to be realistic.
They wanted us to know what kind of a society we were living in. Not to accept it, but to deal with it and maybe someday to change it. So I can‘t say that I encountered that there were surprises in what I encountered, although I‘ll tell you this.
My older sister went to Fisk University in Nashville.
LAMB: Historically black college.
GORDON: Historically black college. And we traveled down to spend some time with her and I got to spend some time in the South. Now the one thing I must admit that I didn‘t see in the North that I saw in the South was this whole "separate but equal."
So I got confused when I saw two community centers that looked exactly the same, but one was for blacks and one was for whites. There were certain kinds of Jim Crow environments that were in fact unique to the South and were in certain cases surprising to me.
I thought I should be able to go into any gymnasium and play ball with any kids, and I couldn‘t do that. It was frankly in the South that I found that there was really designated seating in the movie theaters.
And at least in Camden, New Jersey, you could go to any movie theater and sit where ever cared to. So you had discrimination in the North and South, it was different. But my parents just made certain that my two sisters and I really understood this world we were living in so that we would address it successfully and take it on and hopefully live productive lives.
LAMB: Have you ever done the same thing your father used to do by trying to do something that would scare white people?
GORDON: I don‘t know that I necessarily tried to scare them in that way. But when I went to work, for instance, in corporate America, I was obviously one of very few.
LAMB: What year?
GORDON: I went to 1968.
GORDON: At Bell of Pennsylvania, and in those days, that was the Bell system, so it was the big AT&T Bell system. And Bell of Pennsylvania was one of 22 or 23 major operating companies.
LAMB: In Philadelphia?
GORDON: In Philadelphia. And I can tell you that in those days, I would remember these numbers very clearly. There were 646 middle managers. This was a company of 36,000, 646 middle managers, and another 200 that were division leaders up to the CEO.
So out of that 850-odd executive team, there was one African-American. So that just gives you one statistical sense.
GORDON: 1968. So in those days, I don‘t know that I was necessarily trying to scare white folks, but I was trying to make it very clear that I belonged. And I was trying to make it very clear that if I saw issues that were affecting black workers, because I was I gave you numbers around the management workforce, but there were certainly black folks working in craft jobs and our numbers increased as time went on.
And I was very clear from day one that I was going to be an activist, that I was going to call it the way I saw it. That if I saw discrimination, I would not turn my back to it, I would amplify it.
So I think that I did, in fact, begin to enjoy sort of making people uncomfortable in terms of having to deal with the harsh realities that whether they believed it or not, whether they saw it in themselves or not, there was discrimination in the workplace, it was blatant. It was broad widespread, and it needed to be addressed.
LAMB: When was the first time you made folks uncomfortable?
GORDON: Well, I can think of a couple of things, but I was probably on the job for no more than six weeks when I read the speech, a speech that the president of AT&T had given at the University of Georgia commencement. So this was still back in 1968.
In those days if an executive believed that they had said something profound, than the internal communications people would, you know, publish it so that the whole workforce could read what that executive had said.
LAMB: Who would that have been?
GORDON: This was Ben Gilmer. He was a president of AT&T. And I can see this clear as day. His speech was entitled, "The New Adventurers." So I read it with interest. And it was a pretty good speech.
But I thought that he failed to deal with some of the harsh realities of discrimination in the country. So I sat down at my desk, once again having been there for six weeks, and I handwrote a six-page letter to him.
I said, I read your speech, pretty interesting, but let me take issue. I went out and I mailed it and I came back into the office, I went into my boss and said, Phil, I just want you to know that I just sent a letter to the president of AT&T. And he almost fell out of his chair, because in those days a young, wet-behind-the-ears kid like me wouldn‘t dare correspondent directly with the president of AT&T.
So that was the first time that I sort of shook the tree. Of interest, the president responded. And he probably had some ghostwriter, you know, prepare the letter and simply signed it.
And the letter said something to the effect of, thanks for your letter, appreciate your comments, obviously you and I don‘t necessarily see the world the same way, but you know, best wishes for a great career.
That was the first time. I later in my career started to write for a local newspaper at the invitation of the editor. And the
LAMB: Where was this?
GORDON: This was in I was a manager then in Norristown, Pennsylvania, and the series was called "Voices on Black." And it was sort of the brainstorm of brainchild of the editor to try to get some, I won‘t necessarily say controversial articles, but try to get some perspective from black folks that he could, you know, put out into the community.
So I wrote what I thought was going to be one article, and it turned out he was really had a series in mind. So over a period of about a year I wrote, I don‘t know, 15, 20 articles. I finally petered out.
It was just hard to produce these articles on my own. But I found out that every article that I wrote was being circulated on the executives floor of headquarters. And at some point in time, I got a request, you know, down from the top, to stop writing these articles, that they were too controversial, that they were too pointed, and that the telephone company‘s guy in Norristown ought not have that kind of a platform and express those kinds of messages.
And, frankly, I had anticipated that that might happen. So I thought it through and I told them, no, I would not stop writing. I had a very supportive boss who defended me, defended my right to express myself. And I continued to write until I just couldn‘t produce anymore.
LAMB: You spent 35 years in the Bell system: Bell of Pennsylvania; Bell Atlantic; and then Verizon.
LAMB: All morphing one company into the other.
GORDON: You got it.
LAMB: Did you succeed inside that company as well as you thought you should?
GORDON: I succeeded inside that company more than I would have ever dreamed, to be honest with you. When I that the same guy who supported me about these you know, these articles I was writing sat me down and this would have been about 1972, sat me down and asked me what I wanted to be.
He said, how far do you want to go in this company? I said, I don‘t know. And he said, well he said, do you want to be the president? And I said, no. He said, why not? I said, I don‘t know whether I‘m prepared to commit to that. It seems to me if you‘re president of a company like this, you have to marry the company. I‘m not prepared to marry the company.
But maybe being a vice president wouldn‘t be bad. That‘s exactly how that conversation went. But the fact of the matter is, I just didn‘t I didn‘t know. I didn‘t understand all the possibilities.
As time went on, and I kind of moved level by level, each time I would move a level, I could see more clearly the next level. And I would move up again. I could see the next level. So I was not one of those who had this well-thought-through, carefully orchestrated career plan.
And a lot of people who say they don‘t are full of it, as far as say they do, rather, are full of it, I think. I took it a step at a time.
But did I think that by the time I retired I would manage $24 billion worth of a corporation‘s revenue, manage a workforce of 35,000 or 40,000 people, make decisions over multibillion dollar budgets, sit on corporate boards, and do the things that I did?
No, despite the fact that my parents said, you know, keep your options open and think big thoughts, I didn‘t think that big. So do I know for a fact that in my career, as I was ascending, there were jobs I did not get because of race? Yes, I know that.
And I know that not because I speculate about it, I know it because I was told it. So I clearly did not get certain opportunities because I was an African-American. But if I could retire, as I did, after a 35-year career, as one of the most senior executives in the corporation, I certainly can‘t say that I was held back or denied opportunities in the broader scheme of things because of my color.
LAMB: You said that there were jobs that you didn‘t get because of race. Did you ever know why they wouldn‘t give it to you because of race?
GORDON: Yes. I really did. There was a job that I wanted. I wanted to be what‘s called business office manager. That would have been my first I was hired at first level, that would have been my first second-level job.
And I always wanted to get these jobs were in major metro areas, in cities and in large suburban communities. I always wanted to be in sort of a city because that‘s were I would have more African-American customers and communities to serve.
So I wanted the job in Wilmington, Delaware, because Delaware was a part of the Bell of Pennsylvania operation. And I had my eyes on this job. It opened up and I said, that job, that‘s my job.
And lo and behold, the day that it was announced, a guy that I started with got the job instead of me. And he actually sat we worked in the same group, and he sat two desks behind me.
So when it was announced that Bob got the job, I went back and shook his hand and I was so angry. I then left the office and walked around the block. And when I got back the general personnel manager already had called, because they knew that I wanted the job. They knew I would be disappointed. And he told me.
He said, I know you wanted that job. You were qualified for that job. You were a candidate for that job. But the reason you didn‘t get it is because the general manager of Delaware did not believe that an African-American could be the manager in Wilmington at that time.
He did not believe that the community the broader community would embrace the appointment of a black man to run the telephone company‘s business office in Wilmington, Delaware.
So he said that‘s you didn‘t get the job. You know, in hindsight, I said to myself, that was really stupid. I mean, here‘s a case where they told me right out, the HR guy said to me you didn‘t get a job because you‘re black.
He said, but we‘re going to promote you. There is another opening. It was the one Norristown. And within a matter of days I was promoted to a business office manager in a different community.
So it just was just that clear, and surprisingly to me, communicated to me just that directly.
LAMB: Where did you go to undergrad?
GORDON: I went to Gettysburg College. And that‘s you should say, why? Gettysburg College was not on my radar screen. I had visions of going to a I was going to be a football star at Ohio State, which was in hindsight that was never going to happen, by the way.
But that‘s what I wanted to be. My parents found Gettysburg College, so we had a deal. Apply to the schools that I want to apply to and apply to the schools that they wanted me to apply to.
And Gettysburg was one of their picks. That was the case because my mother was a teacher, and her principal was a Gettysburg grad who knew me. My father, as I told you earlier, was my junior high school principal. And the guidance counselor at the junior high school was a Gettysburg College graduate. And my dad was the first black member of the Camden Rotary chapter, and a guy that he became very friendly with was a Gettysburg College graduate.
So there was a Gettysburg conspiracy developing around me. I didn‘t know it at the time. But, frankly, at some point in time figured, what the heck? My folks have always served me well with their guidance. If they think a small school, small liberal arts school is a better place for me than a large, you know, 10,000-, 12,000-student campus environment, I‘ll go with it.
So off to Gettysburg I went, only to find out that I was the only black student in my class, and on a student campus of 1,800 students, there were, including me, three black students on the entire campus.
LAMB: What was that impact, then, on you?
GORDON: It wasn‘t easy. It wasn‘t easy. I as I said, I grew up in an environment at least elementary school where I was the minority. But I was in a city and I was near family and friends. So I wasn‘t isolated.
Gettysburg, as I‘m sure you know, is, you know, 30 miles west of Harrisburg. It‘s really the middle of nowhere. The town is a small town. The closest city is not counting Harrisburg, is Baltimore, which is, you know, 60 miles further south.
So Gettysburg was really isolated. And I found it was shocking. I mean, it took me a while to really understand the decision that I had made. And I really decided fairly early on I was not going to stick it out. That I would maybe get through my first couple of years and transfer and finish up someplace else.
But the longer I stayed, the more determined I became to finish what I started. So I graduated on time in 1968. But it was not the college experience, frankly, that I would have chosen for myself.
LAMB: Are we better off going to college or school with people of different races or are we better off going where our own types are?
GORDON: Well, it all depends on who the "we" is. I think that the right higher education experience is a very individualized thing. So I would say this: for me, the Gettysburg experience was a tremendous growth experience.
It‘s not one that I would choose again. Knowing what I know now, if I could relive that experience, would I do it? No, I wouldn‘t. But having done it, did I grow and develop in ways that I would not have otherwise? Absolutely. So it
LAMB: Did you and your sister, who went to Fisk, a historically black college, ever sit down and talk about the difference (ph)?
GORDON: Oh yes, both my sisters, one went to Hampton, HBCU, another went to Fisk. So they enjoyed their college experiences more. They got great educations and they had great social experiences.
So they have fond memories of their college years. I can‘t say that I have fond memories. I had great growth experiences, but a lot of my memories are painful memories, or are things that make me squirm a bit when I think about, you know, what I had to deal with. But
LAMB: Like what?
GORDON: Well, you know, Gettysburg fraternities, fraternities and sororities were the center point of social activities at Gettysburg campus. Of the 13 fraternities, only two had national charters that permitted other than white men. So the other fraternities were not even open to me.
So as a football player, a lot of my teammates were being rushed by fraternities that I could not join.
LAMB: And what year would this have been?
GORDON: 1964. So that was difficult. Dating, there was one black woman on campus. She was an upperclassman, that was it. So if I wanted to date, I had to ask a white girl out for a date. Even ones who were maybe willing were unwilling because of the social pressure around saying yes.
So I was limited in what I could do from a dating standpoint. I couldn‘t get my haircut at the barbershop in town because they just didn‘t cut black people‘s hair. There were certain places I would go, certain restaurants, and I could feel the stares, you know, why are you here?
I went into a public store, I think it was one day, and there was a woman with her young son. I estimate 8 to 10 years old. And he looked at me and he then looked at his mother and he said to her, is that a black man? He had never seen one.
That was the environment. To me college, it supposed to be the right balance of academic growth and development and social growth and development. And while you might argue I got a certain kind of a social growth and development, it‘s not necessarily what I would have chosen.
Now having said that, to answer your question more broadly, I think that the ideal in general higher education experience is a diverse one where you get to interact with all kinds of folks, because in the world you interact with all kinds of folks.
So if your college experience can represent what it is you will encounter when you get out of college, I think that‘s a good thing. Now having said that, the role that historically black colleges and universities play is irreplaceable.
And the nurturing, the cultivation of self-image is very unique. And I‘m absolutely certain that there are some young black men and women who need to have that kind of an experience.
So it has got to be what the individual needs. And thank God for our historically black colleges and universities, they have grown and developed spectacular graduates who have gone on to do things that they may not have ever done had they gone to Gettysburg College.
LAMB: Let‘s go back to that February day in New York City, where you do you still live there?
GORDON: I live two places. I still have my apartment, my wife and I have an apartment in Downtown, in Manhattan, but we also have an apartment in Baltimore. So we‘re trying to live in two cities.
LAMB: At what point in the process from that February day on that you were called by a recruiter did how long did it take for you to say yes to the job and eventually why did you say yes to the CEO job of the NAACP?
GORDON: I guess the yes occurred in the May-June time frame. I was officially elected at the organizations annual convention in July. And as I went through the process, obviously it caused me to think a lot more seriously about, you know, a go/no-go decision.
As I went through the process I got to know more and more of the board members.
LAMB: How big is the board?
GORDON: The board is 64 people. The search committee probably had about 12 people on it, including a couple of outsiders, not all board members.
LAMB: I noticed Jack Kemp‘s name was
GORDON: Jack Kemp was on the search committee. He‘s not a board member. Hugh Price from formerly from the Urban League was on the search committee. Ben Hooks, former CEO, was on the search committee.
So the search committee was a group that I saw first, I then saw the executive committee, which is a group of 17, second, and then the full board third. So I sort of got to, you know, know the folks, know the personalities, understand the mission and the current state of affairs at the NAACP better.
And I was praying a lot on it and asking for guidance. My parents are both deceased but I‘m a spiritual guy, so I was sort of checking in. They still give me advice. And at some point in time I realized that this was something that I wanted to do, could do, and should do.
Why? The NAACP was important, is important, and will continue to be important. Despite all the progress that has been made in this country, racism is alive and well. Class disparities, racial disparities still exist.
And the NAACP could be a force to close those economic and health care and educational and criminal justice gaps that I think some but not all fully appreciate in this country.
So I just felt that it was time for me to step into a new role and take it on.
LAMB: How long did you sign up for?
GORDON: I estimate that this is a three- to five-year assignment for me. And I say that on the basis that I don‘t see Bruce Gordon as the future of the NAACP. I see me as the transition point for the NAACP.
The future belongs to a generation much younger than the one I‘m a part of. As I said to you before, I‘ll be 60 in February. I think that if I‘m here for three to five years, when I leave, I should be turning this over to a 40-year-old, I just sort of picked that age because I think that that‘s where the leadership for the next chapters of the civil rights movement should come from.
LAMB: How old is your son?
GORDON: My son is 28.
LAMB: What does he think of this?
GORDON: He‘s very supportive. When I called him and told him I was thinking about it, he laughed. He said, I was wondering how long it would take you to get involved in something. And if you‘re going to get involved in something, this is a great thing for you to do.
LAMB: What‘s the difference in thinking about race between your son and yourself?
GORDON: We think we‘re on the same page in many respects. But he‘s, I would say, about his name is Taurin, Taurin is right in the middle of a hip-hop generation. I mean, he is he personifies the hip-hop generation. He grew up with it. He‘s in it. He embraces it, so to speak.
So if there‘s a difference, it‘s he‘s a part of that generation. I think both generations see race issues in this country. I think both generations see civil rights issues in this country. They may see them through a difference lens. They may choose to act on them in different ways, and in fact, I think that they do.
But in terms of a belief that social justice does not exist in this country to the extent that it should exist is something where our points of view are very close.
LAMB: Where did you meet your wife and what does she think of all of this?
GORDON: I met my wife at work. This is my second marriage. I met Tawana one day just literally walking down the corridors of our headquarters building. Got to know her and was fortunate enough to persuade her that I was good guy to be in her life.
And we‘re happy as can be. So I did find, as some might say, my lifemate, my soulmate. She
LAMB: How long ago?
GORDON: We‘ve been together for 10 years, 10 years. What does she say about all of this? I said to her, you know, if I say yes to this, then you‘re in it too. You know, I‘m we‘re both signing up.
And she would say to you if she was in this room that that was an understatement. She is very involved. She is 24-7 this is a 24-7 job. This you know, it doesn‘t go away. And so she is as involved as I am. So she has been a great partner.
We shake our heads sometimes and think about how good life was, or at least how easier life was when we were both retired, because we retired at the same time. She grew up in Verizon, I did, and she ended her career after 25 years. So she had a pretty long run as well.
So we think about our Verizon life. We think about our 18 months of retired life. And we think about new lives at the NAACP. And we do shake our heads from time to time and say, boy, we‘ve signed up for a lot. Our lives have changed.
But we have enough rewarding experiences to continue to reinforce the fact that we‘re doing what we should be doing.
LAMB: And you know, there has been a lot of press over the years that George W. Bush has not spoken to the NAACP. And people kept referring to when you were hired that you would be the person that may be a better liaison with this administration.
And then you snuck in there in the Oval Office on September the 26th, and you can‘t even find it if you go looking for it. I found it one place on the Internet.
LAMB: You didn‘t talk about that meeting, why not?
GORDON: I didn‘t need to. It was not a publicity stunt. It was not something that, in my opinion, we needed to publicize. I think early on the president and I just needed to see whether we could find some common ground.
He obviously had a bad feeling about the NAACP. And candidly, the NAACP has had a bad feeling about him. And my sense is this. When you have a 96-year-old civil rights organization, the oldest and largest civil rights organization in the country, and you‘ve got the president of the United States, just because of those two organizations, the administration and the NAACP, there ought be dialogue. There ought to be access. There ought to be two-way communications.
That doesn‘t mean that we have to agree on everything. It simply means that if race matters in this country, and I think it does, if you have got the window into America that Katrina opened up, then the administration and NAACP should be talking to one another.
So my sense was that I needed to sit down with the president and we needed to look each other in the eye and see whether there was a basis for getting things accomplished that are in the best interests of the country, you know, not necessarily the best interests of the White House, not necessarily the best interests of the NAACP, the best interests of the country.
And I think that we, particularly with the backdrop of Katrina, because that‘s what we had you know, that‘s frankly, most of our conservation was Katrina-centric. So with that as a basis for conversation, I think that we did uncover the opportunities to find common ground that we should pursue.
LAMB: How many people were in the room?
GORDON: Initially three, but for the majority of the meeting, just the two of us.
LAMB: How long were you there?
GORDON: About an hour.
LAMB: What did you learn, besides that fact that you found common ground in some places? What did you learn about him?
GORDON: He was very direct, as was I. He was very willing to put his emotions on the table. It was an emotional discussion, both sides. I‘ve always said that this president has conviction, you know, whether I like his point of view or agree to his point of view, whatever he seems to go after, he has conviction.
And that was clear in our conversation, and one of my messages to him was that I respect his conviction, I simply want him to have a conviction about the things that I have on my agenda.
So and what I ultimately learned is I believe that there is a basis upon which we can interact and collaborate and make something good happen. And it remains to be seen whether that was accomplished. It‘s too early. But at least the door is open. And I‘m going to try to take advantage of that.
And, frankly, I would wish I hope that the president will try to take advantage. I will really feel good if, among other things, the administration feels the need from time to time to reach out to me, whether it‘s the president or whether it‘s you know, his key leaders. And, frankly, in certain cases, they have reached out. And I feel good about that.
LAMB: Well, as you know, the one the person that was the most irritating to the White House was Julian Bond.
LAMB: The chairman of your board, said some strong things about the president in open forum. Do you think you will ever get the president back to one of your meetings?
And does it matter?
GORDON: That‘s probably the more important question. We have our convention coming up next July. It‘s in Washington, D.C. So it‘s real close to where he lives. And if our convention theme and our convention agenda lends itself to a role for the president to play, then certainly we should reach out and invite him.
And I would hope that he would accept the invitation. I think that he wanted to get some things off of his chest about the organization and his feelings, and he did. I think I probably wanted to get some things off of my chest as well about the organization and the administration, and I did.
So it remains to be seen whether an invitation to the convention is something we should or shouldn‘t do. Well, we‘ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
LAMB: Do you have any doubt I mean, in a conversation, when you‘re one-one-one, do you have any doubt that you got his true and vice-versa?
GORDON: Well, I certainly know that he got my true feelings. And I have no reason, based upon our time together, to think that he did not give me his true feelings. He was very direct.
LAMB: Was he angry?
GORDON: He was angry about some things, yes. That‘s OK. You know, if you‘re angry and you put it out on the table, better to do that than the other way around. You know, I‘m angry about things, once again, I‘m coming that meeting, which was actually on the 23rd, came three weeks approximately after Katrina.
And any American, in my opinion, but certainly any black American in this country who wasn‘t feeling angry about what happened in the Gulf, you know, needs to see whether they have blood flowing in their veins.
So sure, he had some emotions. So did so do I. And candidly, I think that that‘s good. And I think it‘s good to put those emotions on the table. It helps people understand what one another says.
You know, Julian Bond, has obviously not bitten his tongue in terms of his points of view. And I don‘t know that it‘s the point of view that was as troublesome to the White House as it was some of terms and some of the ways that those points of view were expressed.
So at the end of the day, yes, there was some anger in the room, but it was it went two ways and people with different points of view can express anger and still be respectful.
LAMB: What are you the most angry about?
GORDON: I don‘t know if we have time. I‘m angry that in 2005, we still have the glaring, glaring gaps in terms of how people of color are treated in this country.
I‘m angry that a 5-year-old girl can be handcuffed and removed from a classroom by two, you know, 180-pound to 200-pound police officers, put in the back of a police car and shackled and not be permitted to talk with her mother who was literally by that time on the other side of the glass and the door of the police car. I‘m angry about that.
I‘m angry to find out that the FEMA chief had his staff more concerned about when he would have dinner than about getting people out of the convention center and the Superdome.
I‘m angry that even today, with all the issues that I think of now sort of hit the light of day, that we still have minority suppliers who are not getting as much opportunity to participate in the restoration process as I think they should.
And while I‘m getting some feedback that progress is being made, I‘m still not satisfied that it‘s being made at the pace or at the scale that it should be.
I‘m angry that incarceration rates are seven to 10 times as great for black men versus white men. I can go on and on. You know, the gap between the quality of life for African-Americans in this country and the general population is too big for the year 2005. And that‘s why I have chosen to do what I do.
LAMB: Was the president angry about or did he say anything about he doesn‘t get any credit for all the African-Americans he has put in his own cabinet?
GORDON: No. Let me be fair. One of the reasons you didn‘t read a lot is because we it was a private meeting. And neither the president or I have had much to say, I‘ve probably said more in this conversation than I‘ve said anywhere else. So I should probably just leave it at that and but simply say, I‘m glad that we met. I hope that it‘s not the last meeting. I hope that we can find ways to agree.
We‘re going to find plenty of opportunities to disagree, that‘s OK. But if we can find some opportunities to agree and to have a joint focus on a common mission, I‘ll declare victory with that. Where we disagree, we disagree. And that‘s going to happen.
LAMB: You‘re based in Baltimore, you have a 64-person board of directors. How many people work at the NAACP?
GORDON: About 140.
LAMB: What‘s your annual budget?
GORDON: Twenty-four million.
LAMB: Do you have enough money in the till to pay for it all?
GORDON: I‘ll have a hard time balancing this year‘s budget. We‘ve got very modest reserves, so we‘re not about to go out of business, let me say that. But, just think about the answers I gave you to the question.
This is an organization that‘s 96 years old. And it‘s operating on a $24 million a year budget with 140 employees. That‘s not what this organization should be about. We should have probably twice as many employees. We should have an operating budget that‘s two to three times that size. We should really be the producers of thought leadership around the issues affecting black folks in this country today.
So I don‘t feel the least bit comfortable with our current financial situation. And I‘ve got a lot of work to do to build financial discipline, to raise money, to build an endowment, to get the NAACP up to scale of operation with the kind of skills and expertise that I think our brand represents so that we really are viable as we move into the 21st Century.
LAMB: Where does that 24 million come from?
GORDON: It comes from membership dues. It comes from foundations. It comes from corporations. It those are the primary sources.
LAMB: So what is your goal between now and July, when you have the next convention? What do you want to be able to stand in front of that group and say you‘ve done?
GORDON: I want to have the they should know it well before then, I want to balance this 2005 budget. As difficult as it is, I want to be able to let folks know that I got that balanced, that budget balanced, just because it‘s symbolic of being a disciplined, well-managed organization.
I want to double not double, in terms of our annual budget, I want to take it from 24 million to 30 million in one year. That‘s nowhere near where it needs to be, but it represents a substantial increase year-over-year.
So that means I need to go out and raise that kind of money. I want to do that in 2006. I want to really institute and I‘ve used this phrase a number of times, I want to institute a position of thought leadership.
We are pretty good at reacting. But we should be proactive. We‘re pretty good at telling people what we‘re against. But we need to be very good at telling people what we‘re for.
We need to get beyond simply identifying health care disparity, criminal justice inequities, and talk in very specific terms about what has to happen to change that momentum and close those gaps.
So I want to have an agenda that is well thought out, well researched, fact-based, proactive, that we are in the process of executing come convention time next year. I want to see the revenue starting to flow so that if this is a $24 million year and ‘06 is a $30 million year, I see a path to a $40 million and $50 million year.
I want the membership to look very different. And that certainly can‘t happen in a half year, but it‘s the momentum that matters. We are not as youthful a group as I think we should be.
I‘ve often pointed out the fact that when Dr. King gave his speech at the Washington Monument, he was 34 years old. When Malcolm X became the minister of information for the Nation of Islam, he was 34 years old. When Julian Bond was active SNCC, he was a college student, when he ran for his first public office, he was 22 years old.
The civil rights movement historically has been driven by young folks. And I want to rekindle that kind of an interest and engagement in that generation, in the hip-hop generation so that as I‘m phasing out, they‘re phasing in and taking over.
I want that kind of a pattern to be visible and on its way to being established when we have our convention in July in Washington, D.C.
LAMB: Where do you come down on well, for lack of a better example, what Bill Cosby says about the black community?
GORDON: Well, you know, a lot of controversy about what Bill Cosby said, and a lot of different interpretations about Bill Cosby. Here‘s what I think he said. I think he said we have to be accountable. And I agree with him on that. I think that I‘m a nut when it comes to accountability.
I think I feel very strongly about self-reliance. I think that we as a community have to hold ourselves accountable for making our community what we want it to be. Certainly we need help. Certainly we need support. Certainly we need to engage the government and other places of power and resource.
But to look outside of our community for the primary source of effort in terms of reshaping our community to make it what we want it to be, I think it‘s a secondary source. We have to start at home.
So I think when you kind of cut through all of what Bill Cosby said, he was speaking about accountability. And I absolutely agree with that.
LAMB: I saw what you said about the name, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. And it struck me as interesting, if I sat at a dinner table and said, oh, there‘s a colored person sitting over there, you know what would happen. Why do you keep the name in spite of the fact it‘s well-known, and do you think it will ever change?
GORDON: I don‘t know whether it will ever change. It‘s not something that I feel the need to try to change on day one. And I have in my career, I have managed name change. And I‘ve gone from AT&T to Bell Atlantic. I‘ve worked on a merger of Bell Atlantic with NYNEX, and we changed NYNEX‘s name to Bell Atlantic. We merged Bell Atlantic with GTE. We changed the name to Verizon. I‘ve been through the name change process. It ain‘t easy, OK? There‘s
LAMB: And a lot of money to spend too.
GORDON: It‘s expensive to do. But there is equity in a brand. So the question is, are we do we need to abandon the equity that has been built up in the NAACP brand and start over? Or can we in fact take that brand and give it new meaning?
I mean, there are subtleties here. You‘re right. We don‘t refer to black folks as "colored people" anymore. But we do refer to non-whites as "people of color." Nothing wrong with that. So I don‘t know whether I have to change those five letters to represent a 21st Century meaning of colored, or whether I have to change what we do so that no matter whether it says "colored people," people hear it and feel it from the standpoint of being people of color.
So we‘ll see about that. But on my list of high priority items, changing the name is not on that list. There are others things that have to happen first.
LAMB: We only have about a minute left. What has been the biggest surprise since you took this job?
GORDON: You know, I thought in my career that I worked pretty hard, you know, 12-, 13-hour days were fairly routine. I had I didn‘t have a clue. This really is 24-7. It really we‘re just always at it, always thinking about it.
And so much of what happens in the environment, you know, shapes our day-to-day behavior. A Supreme Court justice gets nominated. A hurricane ravages the Gulf Coast. Rosa Parks passes. I mean, so many things happen that we do respond to, and we respond day in and day out, 24 hours a day.
So I didn‘t realize how consuming this new role is. But I get it now, I accept it for what it is, and I‘m committed to it.
LAMB: What do people expect of you that you didn‘t think they would?
GORDON: To be everywhere. You know, people we‘ve got 2,200 organizations across this country. And they respect the national and they want their president and CEO to be out at their Freedom Fund dinners, out meeting with their youth groups. And it‘s hard to just be one person and meet the demands of those who would have me travel to Elkhart, Indiana, or, you know, Baton Rouge, or you name it.
So trying to I had to learn how to manage my time when I was corporate executive. But this has given whole new meaning, for me anyway, to time management. And I‘ve got to figure it out.
LAMB: Thank you, Bruce Gordon.
GORDON: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.