Anthony M. Harmon, director of community and parent outreach for the United Federation of Teachers and a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors, was recently elected president of the New York Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
1. At the UFT, you work directly with schools and families. What are their most urgent concerns that you will bring forward as their messenger in your new role at the NAACP?
As the new president of the NY Branch of the NAACP, my goal will be to focus and work on the National NAACP goals known as the "Game changers:" education, economic sustainability, health, public safety and voting rights.
I will seek to strengthen the bridge between the NAACP as a civil rights organization and labor. Both strive for the same things for our families and our communities. I will also continue to build membership, for there is strength in numbers.
2. As outreach director, you have put together Parent Academies to educate parents about how to advocate for public education. Would this academy model work statewide for some of the concerns being raised by the NAACP?
The New York State NAACP has a wonderful parent leadership component known as the "Lifted Program" that promotes parent engagement and leadership. I can only imagine that the Parent Academy model developed here at the UFT would support what is currently being done through the Lifted Program.
3. New York schools are the most segregated in the nation, according to recent reports. How can we take on this problem?
I think we need to address the issue of equity and fairness in our school system by first speaking truth to power, and recognizing that there is a problem. Then, mount a campaign to educate the public of the inequities that occur in the public schools ... everything from funding, diversity, sharing of space, poverty, testing and school budgets.
Educating the public is only half the battle ... we must devise a plan to work with our schools, faith leaders, unions, parents, community and legislators to address the issues on several fronts, politically and economically.
4. Given the recent demonstrations, articles and community unrest about policing in communities of color, how do you envision your role as president of the NAACP NY Branch as a position in which you can help rebuild trust?
Encouraging open and honest dialogue between all parties involved is a great way to start.
Here in New York City, that process has begun. Our State Conference President, Dr. Hazel Dukes, has set up face-to-face meetings with Police Commissioner William Bratton so he hears directly from those in our community on issues that affect them.
5. What is the connection between labor and the NAACP, and how will you work to strengthen it?
Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said African-American communities' concerns are the same as labor's concerns: "We all want a good education for our children, safe communities where we live and work, affordable housing and decent health care."
My goal will be to work with labor and the community to strengthen the relationship by bringing the concerns of the community to labor and labor's concerns to the community. I see the NAACP as being that bridge between the two. A large portion of that work will be to register voters, educate voters on issues and lastly encourage people to get out the vote.
Now is the time for courage — raw courage — and I plan to speak out when I see injustices in our community.