I was driving on South El Paso Street the other day and glanced at our village's office of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. I wondered if it was still open. Stop me if I'm wrong, but I think we recently picked a guy of African-American lineage as president of the United States. Game, set, match, African-Americans, right?
Why would the NAACP still be around? Is it holding out for pope?
(Footnote: Theologians believe an African-American pope would foster a deeper spirit of unity in the Catholic church. As a bonus, according to ex-Air Force Academy football coach Fisher DeBerry, who told us in 2005 that "Afro-American kids can run very, very well," a pope of African heritage would also easily defeat the leaders of all the other religions in the 100-yard dash.)
Anyway, I assumed the NAACP was out of business after 100 years. Have I mentioned that the president's father was from Kenya? Sarah Palin says it's right next to the country of Africa.
So goodnight, NAACP. Nice knowing ya'. You did a lot of great things. Now turn out the lights. Lock the doors. Maybe Doug Bruce can rent out the office for his comeback campaign (motto: "Kicking Around Some New Ideas as if They Were a Photographer's Knee.")
But then I called local NAACP chapter president Rosemary Harris Lytle, and it turns out that for the first time in recent memory — some might say ever — I was wrong. The NAACP is alive and well. And, according to Harris Lytle, as important as ever in Colorado Springs, which is in many ways to ethnic diversity, tolerance and acceptance what a rainbow trout is to cello music.
Harris Lytle returned last weekend from the NAACP's national convention in New York, which featured an address by President Barack Obama.
"Make no mistake," the president said. "The pain of discrimination is still felt in America."
He spoke of African-American women being paid less for the same jobs performed by people of different color and gender, Latinos "made to feel unwelcome in their own country" and Muslim Americans "viewed with suspicion for simply kneeling down to pray."
Obama also said the pain of discrimination is felt by "our gay brothers and sisters, still taunted, still attacked, still denied their rights."
Which brings us to some so-called leaders of our village, whose names we will not mention to save them from humiliation. An example would be Mayor Lionel Rivera. For the seventh straight year, and we do mean straight, our Mensa-like mayor has refused to recognize the town's annual gay pride festival, which took place Sunday.
(Mayor Rivera did not attend PrideFest, instead getting up early and putting in a full day performing his regular duties: hiding, avoiding eye contact with anyone and refusing to talk about his sketchy involvement in the mysterious U.S. Olympic Committee deal.)
And while our 10-watt bulb of a mayor clings to his long-standing policy of discrimination, our village received a glimmer of hope last week in the form of Vice Mayor Larry Small, who wants to be mayor. He wrote a letter of support for PrideFest.
Harris Lytle knew it was coming. Small, who is white, has been a regular in the mostly African-American congregation of Friendship Baptist Church for three years. Harris Lytle smiles when she talks of his first appearance.
"It was our [NAACP] Founders Day celebration and the church was full of African-American people and African-American culture and gospel music and, well, it's like being in Harlem for a moment," she says. "And right in the middle of it, there's Larry Small. So it was no surprise when he offered ceremonial support to PrideFest."
But, as Obama said last week, discrimination lives and work remains.
"There's hope for our town," she says, "but the hope has to come from the top. We've lost enough high-paying jobs and good companies because of our image as a place with Focus on the Family, a place where we try to keep gay people from breathing.
"We most definitely have an image. And it came right from the top."