Woodbine resident Alexander Bland has big plans for a revitalized chapter of the NAACP in Cape May County.
Elected by a strong majority at an October meeting at Whitesboro’s Martin Luther King center on Main Street, he’s set to be sworn in Nov. 14. He hopes to have that event at the VFW hall in Belleplain.
Bland is the first to hold the office since the death of Christina Hatcher in May 2018, and at 29 the youngest NAACP branch president in New Jersey.
In a recent interview, Bland said the longstanding organization drifted apart after Hatcher’s death. He said he wants to respect the work done in the past and bring new energy and focus to the organization.
“The biggest thing is letting people know we’re here. We’re not trying to tear anybody down. We’re trying to build something,” he said. “We’ve got to build membership and start taking up space in the county.”
Bland said he wants to bring former members back into the organization, while expanding membership with an active recruitment effort.
Cape May County’s chapter was out of compliance for years, according to Safeer Quraishi, the administrative director of the NAACP New Jersey State Conference. The local organization did not have officers or regular meetings and fell below the minimum of 50 members to be considered an active chapter.
“I give them all the credit in the world. They went out and did membership drives in the community. They’ve gotten a lot of young people involved as well,” Quraishi said.
Often described as the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People was founded in 1909, at a time of rising lynching and violence against blacks. From the start, the organization included black and white activists.
As the average age of membership climbs, Quraishi said, it’s important for the NAACP to recruit young members.
“In order to continue the work, in order to do it in more innovative and effective ways, we have to get young people involved,” he said. He added that the organization also needs its older members. “We need them to impart their experience and their wisdom.”
Tracy Cardwell, the new assistant treasurer for the chapter, said her mother was involved in the organization while the late Dorothy Mack led the chapter.
“Now I’m coming back,” she said.
While the chapter remains small, it has the attention of local politicians, especially those on the ballot this year. At the election in Whitesboro Oct. 10, Republican and Democratic candidates for freeholder, state office and municipal elections were on hand to cast their votes as chapter members.
“I got them all signed up,” Bland said, “Everybody got along. I can see now that people realize the NAACP is bigger than a party.”
He also stated that the chapter represents the entire county, not just one city or area.
“Right now our home base is in Whitesboro,” he said. “But we’re a county branch. We’re not a Middle Township branch, we’re not a Whitesboro branch. We’re county wide.”
Before his election, Bland had gotten media attention after blasting Middle Township Mayor Tim Donohue for a sarcastic Facebook post about white supremacy, which was later reprinted as an opinion piece on a conservative website. The organization never accused Donohue of racism, but did state that the piece seemed arrogant and insensitive.
Since that time, Bland said he has developed a good rapport with Middle Township’s Republican mayor and has invited him to the swearing in ceremony.
Bland said the organization is happy to work with either political party, and wants to work with Cape May County’s Republican Sheriff Robert Nolan and the police departments in the county municipalities.
“We are bipartisan, but we’re heavily political,” Bland said.
Among the candidates who voted in the chapter election was Antwan McClellan, an Ocean City councilman and a Republican nominee for state Assembly. He is not Ocean City’s first black elected official, and Cape May County has seen some black mayors, but he believes he is the first black nominee for a major party from Cape May County and would be the first black man elected to the Assembly for the 1st District if he wins out over one of the Democratic incumbents.
Other officers of the Cape May County chapter include First Vice President Quantte McNeal, Second Vice President Chris Hines, Secretary Wanda Shepard and Treasurer Sheryl Cisrow.
According to Quraishi, the revitalized chapter is now at more than 80 members. He said the new officers can act in their capacity before the planned swearing in ceremony.