Three vie for Pittsburgh-NAACP presidency

Tory N. Parrish
| Monday, Nov. 12, 2012, 11:58 p.m.

The three candidates for president of the NAACP-Pittsburgh agree on at least one thing: the branch needs a new direction.

Deborah Walker, 57, of Allentown, Regina Ragin Dykes, 68, of East Liberty, and Constance “Connie” Parker, 70, of Penn Hills on Tuesday are seeking to lead the 97-year-old branch.

M. Gayle Moss, president for eight years, is not seeking re-election. She declined to comment.

Like many branches nationwide, the Hill District-based group is dealing with declining membership. Members do not have to live in Pittsburgh to join the branch, one of eight in Allegheny County, according to the national organization.

NAACP-Pittsburgh had about 5,000 members in the 1960s, but now has about 1,000 members, officials said. Even with the decline, the branch won an award for having the most members at the national conference this year, said Parker, the group's first vice-president for the past eight years.

Now that the country has a black president, some observers question the relevancy of the civil rights organization, whose Baltimore-based national office was founded in 1909.

The Pittsburgh candidates said disparities in education, employment, health and other socioeconomic indicators between people of color and whites keep the NAACP relevant.

“The issues are the same, the approach may be different in how we address the issues,” said Walker, who hears student conduct cases for the University of Pittsburgh as chief judicial officer. She is an adjunct professor at Pitt and Point Park University.

She wants to implement a five-point plan to revitalize the NAACP, including rebuilding to address critical issues such as voter suppression. Walker has a bachelor's degree in administration of justice and legal studies and a master's degree in public policy management from Pitt.

Dykes, who is pastor of New Life A.M.E. Church in Homewood, said her longtime involvement with the NAACP, including as the former prison affairs coordinator for 10 years, and community engagement make her the best person to lead the branch.

She ran unsuccessfully against Moss in 2010, but said she is running again because many members have expressed their disillusionment with the branch. She wants to work to mend relationships, she said.

“You can't bargain or sit at the bargaining table with people that you've made enemies of,” said Dykes, who has a bachelor's degree in liberal studies from Carlow University and master's degrees in psychology and Christian counseling through Almeda University's distance learning program.

Longtime NAACP member Parker said the group needs to bring more people into its planning.

“It's going to take the whole community” to make change, said Parker, who is the community relations coordinator for PennDOT's District 11. She took classes at Carnegie Mellon University in electrical engineering.

She has worked with the NAACP on projects such as a partnership with Duquesne University, in which law school students work on civil rights complaints the branch receives, she said.

Parker's daughter, former Pittsburgh Councilwoman Twanda Carlisle, works in the NAACP branch office.

Tory N. Parrish is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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