Ghetto boy makes good for US blacks

LOCAL HEROES: 9

Washington - If his life story had been submitted as a work of fiction, it would have been rejected as preposterous. After all, black gang members in inner-city ghettos do not have road-to-Damascus experiences on street corners that transform their lives. And just supposing one did, he would become a social worker, perhaps a church minister. He certainly would not enter Congress, and turn into one of the most skilful and heavily courted figures on Capitol Hill - only to abandon that most promising career to take charge of the venerable but deeply troubled doyen of America's civil rights groups.

Even in the land of make- believe, publishers would say, this sort of thing simply does not happen. But in the case of Kweisi Mfume, newly installed chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, it has.

Frizzell Grey, who was born 48 years ago and raised in Baltimore, who hung out with street toughs and fathered five children out of wedlock, really did see the light one summer night in 1972. Having realised the folly of his ways, he went back to school, got two degrees, entered politics and was elected in 1986 to Congress, where he became chairman of the Black Caucus, and was seen by many as a future Democratic floor leader. Along the way, he changed his name to Kweisi Mfume, a Ghanaian term meaning "Conquering Son of Kings" - and found time to be a proper father to his children.

This is epic stuff, and small wonder that three weeks ago Mr Mfume's first trip to Chicago and the Midwest as head of the NAACP, ostensibly to attend a tribute of the National Rainbow Coalition to its founder Jesse Jackson, turned into a celebration of his own appointment. "Go tell it on the mountain that the NAACP is back," Mr Mfume said. "We met the enemy one day and it was us, and in finding ourselves, we found our future."

Not before time. Founded after an Illinois race riot in 1909, the NAACP is the oldest and largest of America's mainstream civil rights organisations. But in recent years it has lost its way. At his swearing-in ceremony last month which President Bill Clinton attended, Mr Mfume promised that change at the NAACP would be "swift, focused and constructive". He has kept his word, in a fashion which his admirers perhaps did not expect - sacking one-third of staff of the organisation's full-time staff after a fortnight on the job. Having defied logic in rescuing his own life, his supporters say, surely he can do the same with the NAACP - and maybe with black America as well.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger is in Argentina having chemotherapy

Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum
theatre

Returning to the stage after 20 years makes actress feel 'nauseous'

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
news

Man's attempt to avoid being impounded heavily criticised

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Colin Firth and Emma Stone star together in Magic in the Moonlight: Woody Allen's 1920s romance

Arts and Entertainment
You've been framed: Henri Matisse's colourful cut-outs at Tate Modern
artBut what makes a smash-hit art show?
Arts and Entertainment
US pop diva Jennifer Lopez sang “Happy Birthday” to Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, president of Turkmenistan
musicCorporate gigs become key source of musicians' income
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig believed to be donning skis as 007 for first time
Student
The Guildhall School of Music and Drama is to offer a BA degree in Performance and Creative Enterprise
student

Sport
Mikel Arteta pictured during Borussia Dortmund vs Arsenal
champions league
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
Arts and Entertainment
Pulp-fiction lover: Jarvis Cocker
booksJarvis Cocker on Richard Brautigan
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

March On Cancer™ - Local Marketing and Promotions Volunteer

This is an unpaid voluntary role.: Cancer Research UK: We need motivational vo...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Maths Teacher - Evening session

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: I am looking for a qualified experi...

Teaching Assistants

£50 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Rapidly developing and growing ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week