EDITOR’S NOTE: Listen to the interview exclusive between Roland Martin and Ben Jealous above.
Benjamin Todd Jealous, the youngest president ever elected to lead the NAACP, will resign on Dec. 31 saying he wants to spend more time with his wife and children.
In an interview with USA TODAY, Jealous said the demands of travel as president and the nation’s largest civil rights organization was taking a personal toll because since 2008 he has spent too much time away from his wife Lia Epperson, a civil rights lawyer, and children, daughter Morgan, 7, and Jack, 13 months.
Jealous told USA Today that he plans to make a formal announcement to his staff on Monday.
“Leadership knows when to step up and when to step down,” Jealous said. “This day I can say with pride that I’m prepared to step down and make room for the next person who will lead this organization to its next chapter.”
Jealous was 35 years old when he took over as president, but today, now 40, Jealous said he’s leaving the NAACP in good shape.
“In the last five years, we’ve had double-digit revenue growth, we’ve spent five years in the black,” Jealous said.
Jealous, who was constantly on the road, earned a reputation for speaking out on critical social justice issues, which included voicing his frustration over George Zimmerman’s acquittal in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Jealous said the NAACP has collected petitions with more than 1.7 million signatures calling for charges to be filed against
Zimmerman for violating Trayvon Martin’s civil rights.
The signatures, Jealous said, which came in by mobile phone and many from young people, would be turned over to the Department of Justice.
“The most important thing for all of us … is to get organized,” Jealous said. “I often tell people I don’t care whether they join the NAACP or some other group, but you better join something. “Because the reality is in a democracy there are only two types of power, there’s organized people and organized money and organized money only wins when people aren’t organized.”
Jealous also made news recently when he said there are still allies of the civil rights movement in the Republican Party.
“We have to, as a civil rights community, really think deeply not just how we build bonds among each other but how we, frankly, re-introduce civil rights to the Republican Party, which for 100 years was the party of civil rights in many ways,” Jealous said.
Meanwhile, NAACP board chairwoman Roslyn Brock said Jealous’ announcement shocked many inside the NAACP.
“Truly we were surprised,” Brock told USA Today. “We’re disappointed that he’s leaving at this time. He’s five years in and we were expecting him to be with us seven years, based on our agreement with him.”
“We know his passion for the work and we could hear the pain in his voice,” Brock said. “We looked back over the five years. He has made a sacrifice. But he’s left us in a place with a five-year strategic plan.”
Rev. Al Sharpton said he met the news of Jealous’ resignation with mixed emotions, saying Jealous leaves his post with no scandal, shame, or physical challenges, and young enough to have a bright future.
“I have known him since he was a student leader at Columbia University and his first arrest was in the Diallo civil disobedience movement that National Action Network (NAN) and I led in New York to protest the police killing of Amadou Diallo,” Sharpton said in a statement.
“Ben Jealous has operated with integrity and a real sense of hands-on activism,” he added. “Not only was he able to revive the NAACP and raise its budget to higher heights, he joined us in the streets in real civil rights activity on the ground. From the “suites to the streets” he will be missed as head of the NAACP but I am sure he will not leave us in his contribution to the struggle.”
In the meantime, Jealous said he has no choice but to resign: He made a promise to his seven-year-old daughter that he would leave the NAACP after five years – and he plans to keep his word.