Mississippi NAACP’s New Executive Director
As the new Executive Director of the National Association of the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP) Mississippi State Conference, Corey Wiggins is working to tackle poverty as well as advance racial justice and economic opportunity throughout this southern state.
The Kellogg Fellow (CLN-01) recently took a minute from his busy schedule to speak with Kellogg Fellows Leadership Alliance about his NAACP strategy for dealing with racial equity in this current political climate.
Have Corey’s priorities changed for NAACP in light of the current political climate? Not really.
“I’ve been intentional about the fact that we want the Mississippi NAACP to be strategic and proactive,” he says. “We don’t want to be in this reactive mode, where we’re reacting only to the actions of others. We have to be intentional about what we care about. Our strength is that we have members across the state talking to their local communities and identifying the priorities for those local areas. That allows us to develop a corrective strategy with certain guideposts.”
Corey admits there are always situations the organization is going to respond to, such as discriminating actions by the state legislature or others. “However, that can’t be our only guideposts,” he says. “We want to instead focus on building a stronger and healthy African-American community in the state of Mississippi.”
What does Corey wish people would talk about more regarding racial equity in Mississippi? Two things, mainly.
“First, we have a lot of folks who are suffering right now in Mississippi,” explains Corey. “It is very hard for an individual or family to become activists when they can’t find food, clothing and shelter. How do we address the immediate needs of these folks? How do we help make people and families whole?”
At the same time, he wants these communities to understand that “there are systems and structures that limit opportunities for some while creating opportunities for others,” he adds.
“We’ve found that it’s not only about the fight to tear down those inequitable institutions, but it’s just as vital — and challenging — a fight to then build new systems that actually work for black folks living in Mississippi. We have to make sure that we all show up strategically to fight both against injustices and for an equitable future.”
What worries Corey the most these days?
“The thing that worries me the most right now is the current direction of our state’s policies,” explains Corey. “I worry that our young folks and activists may come to believe that this is normal. We’ve always had struggles around Mississippi’s policies and keeping equity and justice in the forefront. But there have also been folks like Aaron E. Henry, who fought back against these systems.”
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Aaron E. Henry, an important civil rights leader in Mississippi, read this Mississippi Historical Society article.
“I worry that there may not be enough out there helping to push back these days,” continues Corey. “But I hope folks understand and know that NAACP just turned 109 years old nationally, and we’ve been in the fight during that time. The only way to continue this work is to rise up and push back against these injustices that exist in Mississippi together."
The new Executive Director believes strong communications is an important of the organization’s work.
“I understand and respect that people show up every day in their local communities to do the work, without a lot of fanfare and resources,” he says. “My role includes trying to identify resources that work to build capacity in local communities for our folks who are struggling every day. When you talk about where change happens, change happens over a community table. We can’t allow what is happening nationally to deter us from working with small communities across the state.”
In fact, making sure that the NAACP organization’s resources are sustainable is the top priority for the Mississippi organization.
“We know there are many challenges that African-Americans face nationally and here in Mississippi,” explains Corey. “With the organization’s long history of doing social justice work and community organizing efforts in this state, we want to make certain that the folks at our local NAACP branches have all the tools, technology and resources that they need to be effective in their communities.”
So, what gives this passionate leader hope?
“I’ll tell you what gives me hope,” he says. “When I walk in a MS NAACP meeting, I see people who have been in this fight for a long time. There are people 60, 70 and 80 years old coming to our meetings. There are 16 and 17 year olds sitting there. These aren’t folks being paid to be here. It gives me hope to see that even with all the challenges, there are still people willing to stand on the side of righteousness so that all people, families and communities in this state have the tools they need to be successful.”
In his work, Corey thinks about the first Mississippi NAACP Field Secretary, Medgar Evers.
“He was murdered and gave the ultimate sacrifice of his life,” says Corey. “That’s the legacy that we share. And that’s why we show up in our communities. It gives me a lot of hope when there is a committed group of folks that show up and do the work, without a lot of fanfare.
Editor’s Note: Learn more about Medgar Evers and the origin of the civil rights movement in Mississippi in this informative article from the Mississippi Historical Society.
How has his Kellogg Fellowship influenced Corey’s work? Several important ways.
“I tend to be analytical in my approach to my work,” he admits. “The Fellowship challenged me to keep in mind ‘the whole me.’ This includes being more personable and showing more feelings in terms of what this work means to me personally instead of shielding those feelings from my professional life.”
“The Fellowship really challenged me to be the same person when I walk into rooms, give speeches and work with members across the state. At the end of the day, this attitude allows me to have a deeper and more genuine connection to what and why I do this work. It allows me to show up differently in a public space.”
The Kellogg Fellow says one of the biggest assets is being connected with like-minded people.
“This type of work can make us take for granted the toll that it has on us personally, physically and emotionally,” he says. “When you have a network that you can rely upon, laugh with and vent to, you can develop a deeper relationship to folks that also occupy the same space. What a great benefit to be connected with other soldiers for justice. I cannot even begin to describe the personal benefit of this aspect of the Fellowship.”
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