Guess Who's Coming to Breakfast

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Last week, I received a press release about the 2011 endorsements by the Anderson-Thorpe-Chapman Breakfast Club (quoted in its entirety at the end of this post). Unfortunately, the statement raised more questions than it answered. I spoke by phone with my friend Nate Davis, corresponded with NAACP representative Rob Stephens, and also e-mailed Fred Battle and Al McSurely, but was not able to get any answers to my questions. If candidates and the media are going to tout these endorsements, I think we should know a little more about where they came from.

When were these endorsements made? On October 20, the candidate profiles for Braxton Foushee and Annetta Streater in the Carrboro Citizen voter guide touted their Breakfast Club endorsements; however, other candidates in the same races had yet to be contacted by the club. The press release I received was dated October 27. Did the Breakfast Club talk to the other candidates? In fact Dan Coleman and Lydia Lavelle were never contacted by them. If they only interviewed some of the candidates, then...

What were the endorsements based on? When candidate Michelle Johnson was first interviewed by the Breakfast Club, she was treated with hostility and asked questions about things like the race of her husband and whether she attends a black church, and insinuating that she spent too much time at Weaver Street Market. Not only are these questions irrelevant to her ability to serve as a Carrboro alderman, they are simply inappropriate. (When I attended the Breakfast Club's interview with Donna Bell 2 years ago, she was treated with similar hostility, but at least the questions were about issues and not personal.) In fact, the interview went so badly that Johnson asked to return for a second meeting to express her concern and discuss actual issues. But this second meeting was also attended unexpectedly by her opponent in the race, Braxton Foushee. Is Foushee a member of the group making the endorsements? Which makes me ask...

Who made these endorsements? Back in the days when I was an active member, the Breakfast Club mainly consisted of Fred Battle, Nate Davis, Al McSurely, Eugene Farrar, Bill Thorpe, Yonni Chapman, and sometimes other leaders such as Michelle Cotton. From what I understand, Battle and Davis are still the driving force behind the Breakfast Club. But both of them are also serving as Foushee's campaign co-chairs, with Nate Davis in the formal role of treasurer. Surely they are not also involved in the endorsement process that selected Foushee? The press release below included not a single Breakfast Club member's name, but listed the phone number of Al McSurely's law office.

It should not surprise any observer of these events that Michelle Johnson did not receive the Breakfast Club endorsement. Though I personally don't share their opinion of her candidacy, I'm not complaining about that decision - it's theirs to make. Ten years ago I was an active member of the Breakfast Club and helped to organize events with the local NAACP. Today I have concerns about their ethics and their effectiveness, which is a real shame for anyone concerned with fighting the very real and pressing economic and racial injustices that exist in Orange County.

 

HANK ANDERSON-BILL THORPE-

YONNI CHAPMAN BREAKFAST CLUB

P.O. BOX 1290

Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514

919 967 3311

October 24, 2011

 

Dear News Editor:

           

The Hank Anderson- Bill Thorpe-Yonni Chapman Breakfast Club was founded in 1976 by the late Hank Anderson, the first African American Department Head for the Town of Chapel Hill.  Hank began hosting a Saturday morning breakfast meeting at Dip’s Restaurant with African American and social justice community leaders.  They discussed problems and political strategies to help disenfranchised people.

 

In the early 1990’s The Breakfast Club reconstituted the Chapel Hill-Carrboro NAACP Branch and Town Councilmember Bill Thorpe began the tradition of Breakfast Club Endorsements to aid voters who wanted to vote for candidates who would consistently advocate for social justice. The Breakfast Club presents its 2011 Endorsements for your consideration:

 

TOWN OF CARRBORO

Mayor: Mark Chilton
Alderman: Braxton Foushee
Alderman: Dan Coleman
Alderman:  Lydia Lavelle

 

TOWN OF CHAPEL HILL

Mayor: Mark Kleinschmidt
Councilperson: Donna Bell 

Councilperson: Jim Ward
Councilperson: Jason Baker
Councilperson: Lee Storrow
 

 

CHAPEL HILL-CARRBORO SCHOOL BOARD

Annetta Streater
Mia Burroughs

James Barrett
Jamezetta Bedford


This has been a very difficult post for me to write and publish. Not only are the leaders of the local NAACP/Breakfast Club wonderful activists who have done great service to this community for decades, many of them are also my personal friends. I may be risking these relationships in writing about this publicly, but I believe in fairness above almost every other value, and I have learned (most distinctly from the Bill Strom debacle) that it does not pay to look the other way when my allies do things I don't agree with. Let's hope this prompts a dialogue about the NAACP's critical work for civil rights and social justice, what their role is in the community today, and maybe an interest in adding some transparency and clarity to their political activities.

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6 Comments

James Barrett's picture

Great post

Thanks, Ruby, for sharing these concerns.  While in the end I did include the endorsement in my publicity, it was not without struggling through the same issues you cover here. 

Please Set the Record Straight

Hi Ruby, first let me state that I respect your opinion and applaud your honesty in your blog Guess Who's Coming To Breakfast.  However, I am concerned that you may have unwittingly (benefit of the doubt here) accused the NAACP of acting unethically and being ineffective.  As a former president (firs woman president I might add) of the Chapel Hill--Carrboro NAACP I take offense to that accusation and sure hope that there are factual examples to support that claim.  With regards to our ineffectiveness, well just ask some of the poor and marginalized people who have come to our organization to help them fight against social injustice, abuse and exploitation and I am sure you will get a very different assessment.  IN fact, although we may not have won every battle we have fought at least we stood up and was willing to fight for "the poor, the tired, the huddled masses" in Chapel Hill and Carrboro and we have done so with integrity and our moral compass pointed in the right direction--towards justice and equal protection for ALL under the law.  In fact, all of those persons who have been inducted in Peace and Justice plaza on Franklin Street were PROUD NAACP members.  Furthermore, we are perhaps the most diverse (based on ethnicity, class, gender, religious identity, etc.) organization in both Chapel Hill and Carrboro that recognizes that diversity is VITAL to our success. Divesity for us is  more than an afterthought but very much at the forefront of our mission.  While members of the Breakfast Club are also members of the NAACP, we are not the same organizations.  IN fact, during my time as president, I can count the number of branch meetings that Mr. Battle and Mr. Foushee attended; Mr. Battle for health reasons (from what I understand) and I am not sure why Mr. Foushee stopped attending.  So, out of respect for and recognition of our  members and the hard work that they continue to do under the leadership of Reverend Robert Campbell, please refrain from besmirching the Chapel Hill Carroboro NAACP for the sake a sensational blog posting.  That's the least we deserve considering the tireless VOLUNTEER hours and committment that many of our members extend to protect and fight for those who feel powerless and voiceless in our community. 

I don't know how the Breakfast Club made its decision.  I do know that in the past they asked the same questions of every candidate.  Their concern like it or not is that which invests in and protects the interest of the Black community in Durham.  They are similar to the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People and with that they often receive the same attacks from their critics.  In the past when Bill Thorpe was alive and leading the Breakfast Club I do know that we did have open public candidates forums where the candidates were vetted.  I was the questionneer for two years in a row under Bill's leadership.  I am not sure why the same process did not take place this time.  For whatever it is worth, I admire and am excited about Michelle Johnson's candidacy and personally I hope she wins.  I think she will bring a fresh new energy to the BOA that is LONG overdue.  I think her vision is timely and where we are.  I personally don't think members of the Breakfast Club are shallow enough to think that just because she is married to a man of another race that they would automatically disqualify her.  Donna Bell has proven to be an AWESOME leader and has settled what was once questions about her allegiance to and interest in the Northside community.  If I could, Donna in Chapel Hill and Michelle in Carrboro would get my vote.  But hey--I am registered in Durham so my vote doesn't count.  I also think however that Braxton Foushee's historical knowledge and big picture view of where we have been, where we are and what we need to do to make sure that NO ONE is left behind in moving in the direction we want to go in in Carrboro is also important. 

In terms of the friendship question--you know I love you and applaud the work that you do and the success you have had with this blog and keeping the public "in the know."  Alls fair in love and politics....my feelings of endearement and respect for you remain.   

 In solidarity and love,

Michelle Cotton Laws

Ruby Sinreich's picture

Thanks for the response

Thank you for the reply, Michelle. You raise a good point that the Breakfast Club does not neccesarily equal the NAACP. But since most of the NAACP executive committee has been participating in these interviews (in my past experience, at least) it's safe to assume there is some association if not a connection between them.  And with literally NO contact information accompanying the endorsements, how is anyone to understand the distinction?This is a good illustration of how the lack of transparency is negatively impacting the reputations of both the Breakfast Club and the NAACP.  

malaws's picture

NAACP

Certainly we have moved on to much grander things however I am just getting back to catching up on blog readings.  I wrote the previous response under distress (lap top had just crashed and I had the flu).  I meant Chapel Hill of course and not Durham.  However, to your last point.  For the record, ALL NAACP general meetings are open to the public, every first Saturday of the month.  Check the website for meeting locations. I don't know how much more transparent we can be.  The Executive Committee holds closed meetings but isn't this basically the norm for most organizations?  Bottom line is, NAACP has remained and will remain open and welcoming for all who wishes to join us in our important work.