Since 2003, the National Black Justice Coalition has served as the sole national group whose primary mission is to advocate on behalf of GLBT African Americans. Through that history, H. Alexander Robinson has been leading the charge of the D.C.-based NBJC, his face familiar to many along the Baltimore-Washington corridor. Effective the first week of June, however, Robinson has resigned as executive director and CEO. Sylvia Rhue has stepped in as interim executive director.
Robinson declined to be interviewed, preferring to first take some time to hammer out his goals for the future, though he did suggest that he’d like to turn some of his attention and expertise toward the Baltimore GLBT community. And Rhue, who has been with the NBJC from the beginning, serving as a board member, then as the person in charge of the NBJC’s religious-affairs program, was unavailable to speak due to travel.
Jason Bartlett, however, is happy to talk about the state of affairs at NBJC, and where the group may be headed through this transition. Because not only is Bartlett the country’s only openly gay, African-American politician elected to state office — winning a seat as a Connecticut state representative in 2006 — he is also NBJC’s deputy director, serving the organization since August 2008.
“Any time there’s a change, it’s an opportunity for new vision, new programs,” Bartlett says. “At NBJC, we’re looking to be more decentralized and try some new things going forward.”
Crediting Robinson’s organizational skills and professionalism as key components in establishing the NBJC, as well as Rhue’s longtime dedication to the organization to see it through this transition, Bartlett appears to have his sights set squarely on the future. And there’s no doubting his enthusiasm for the mission.
“Coalition is part of our name,” Bartlett says. “We need more emphasis on the ‘coalition’ part. We have access to the White House. We work closely with the Congressional Black Caucus. We work with our allies so that we can influence policy here in Washington, but we want to renew our efforts on the state level. When you’re a national group representing a lot of people, you have to look at each state. We have a responsibility to make sure everyone feels connected.”
While the NBJC may be looking to re-engage constituents far beyond the Beltway, Bartlett says the board is committed to maintaining the organization’s D.C. headquarters, adding that either he or Rhue will keep the office at 16th and R Streets NW running through the summer. That should be nearly enough time for the NBJC to find a permanent executive director, says Bartlett, estimating that the spot will be filled by early autumn.
He adds that while Rhue says she has no interest in the NBJC top spot on a permanent basis, he wouldn’t rule it out for himself.
Regardless of hiring, however, what Bartlett insists is of greater importance for NBJC moving forward is greater input from the people it is designed to serve.
“I’d like my brothers and sisters to reach out to us and tell us what they want to see going forward,” he says. “E-mail us. Criticize us. Offer suggestions. We want to engage our community.”