One hundred and four years ago, on February 12th, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, and a handful of dedicated rights activists joined together to form the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Their mission: to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons. From ending legal lynching and school segregation to the passage of the Voting Rights Act, the NAACP has stood at the forefront in the battle for equality for over a century. Today, even as our nation's first black president prepares to give his State of the Union Address, there is still significant work to be done on several fronts to achieve the equality that our founders envisioned.
Despite signs of a recovering economy, African American unemployment remains disturbingly high at 13.8 percent -- nearly double the national average. For our nation's economy to thrive again for all communities, a greater focus on closing the racial economic divide must be a priority. As we did 50 years ago during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, we will push for economic policies that ensure opportunity and access to employment as well as protection from predatory lending practices. The NAACP will also continue to work directly with communities through job fairs and financial planning workshops.
As a nation, we must also address one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time -- the HIV/AIDS epidemic and its impact on the black community. It is painful to know that while blacks make up only 14 percent of the country's population, our community represents nearly half of the newly diagnosed HIV infected individuals each year.
For too long, discussions of HIV/AIDS in our neighborhoods have been rendered mute in order to avoid uncomfortable conversations or fear of judgment. We must summon the courage to confront our fears and attack this crisis head-on. The NAACP intends to lead the way in this battle, bringing together leaders in health, faith, and civil rights to raise awareness about the disease and to create an atmosphere for open and honest dialogue about HIV/AIDS.
However, raising awareness about this disease is not enough if our health system does not provide access to information, insurance, prevention, and quality treatment. That is why the NAACP will push for full implementation of state health exchanges developed as a part of the Affordable Care Act. We believe these exchanges are a critical first-step to ensuring those at or below the poverty line -- as are a disproportionate number of people of color -- have access to health insurance and health care.
In addition to the new battles we face, we must also defend the achievements of our predecessors, including voting rights. The NAACP's history is filled with those who sacrificed their most valued resources, and in some cases their lives, to ensure unfettered access to the ballot box. It is the foundation these advocates built that led to record-breaking participation by African Americans in the 2008 election. Unfortunately, this swell of participation also led to the
implementation of voter suppression tactics in the years that followed. Though we were able to slow or stop the most egregious of these voting restrictions in 2012, the battle for voting rights is far from over. We will recommit to this fight in 2013 and beyond until discriminatory barriers to voting are removed.
On the anniversary of our founding, we honor those who donned the mantle of civil rights 104 years ago. Their legacy paved the way for our present success and will serve as our inspiration as we raise our voices together to tackle the obstacles ahead -- education reform, gun violence and comprehensive immigration reform. We are a generation of power and we will not rest until the mission of our founders is met because courage will not skip this generation.
Roslyn M. Brock is Chairman of the National Board of Directors for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). She made history in February 2010 when she was unanimously elected as its 14th Chairman. She is the youngest person and fourth woman to hold this position.