Georgia NAACP President James “Major” Woodall invoked a greeting of the Masai people of Africa, known for their warrior tradition, to ask and answer, “Are the children well?” during the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP’s 54th Freedom Fund Gala.
His answer, in a word, was “No,” as he called for members and others to “fight against voter suppression, racial disparities and criminal injustice,” and for clean air and water, a higher minimum wage and Medicaid expansion.
Woodall, 25, was elected president of the Georgia State Conference of the NAACP during the annual state convention in October. He is the youngest president in the Georgia conference’s history and the youngest state conference president in the national association. A 2016 graduate of Georgia Southern University, he served as first vice president of the Bulloch County branch while here, and was also the university’s NAACP chapter president one year and NAACP Georgia Youth and College Division state president.
He remains a member of the local branch to which he returned, as guest speaker to a crowd of nearly 250 members and guests, Nov. 2 in the ballroom of the Nessmith Lane Center on the GS campus.
“Good evening, freedom fighters … people that are willing to fight for freedom for not only our people but all people,” Bulloch County NAACP Branch President Delinda Gaskins greeted members.
She is also, since the October conference near Marietta, NAACP Georgia State Conference secretary.
Voter list purge
While asking guests to become NAACP members and encouraging members to be active “in that fight for justice” generally, Gaskins called for particular vigilance as Georgia election officials purge from voter registration lists names of people said not to have voted in recent years.
“As you may have read, our governor and secretary of state, they are purging more names, and as you look at that list you will see 2,416 from Bulloch County alone,” Gaskins said. “That is a problem. Where some may have passed, others are alive and well and capable of voting. So it’s up to us to reach those individuals, check the list out, go onto the secretary of state’s website and see what’s going on.”
NAACP Bulloch County Youth Council President Landon Young and Georgia Southern Chapter President Christina Fischer also brought greetings.
Paulette Chavers, then candidate and now District 2 member-elect to Statesboro City Council, introduced Woodall, making a play on words of his nickname “Major” to list his “major” accomplishments.
After each accomplishment, concluding with the state NAACP presidency, she added, “Now, that is Major.”
Woodall, who grew up in Riverdale, was first called “Major” while in high school, where he served as a Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps cadet commander. He did not continue in ROTC in college but served eight years as an intelligence analyst in the Army Reserve, becoming a sergeant.
In 2016, he was the Democratic Party candidate for state representative in District 160. While at Georgia Southern, Woodall also worked as a legal assistant to Francys Johnson, the Statesboro-based lawyer and Baptist minister who was 2013-2017 Georgia NAACP state president.
Woodall is now a graduate student at the Morehouse School of Religion in Atlanta and an associate minister at Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Marietta. Here, he referred to himself as a preacher and indicated that he was speaking from a tradition that calls for action based on faith in God.
‘Kasserian ingera ‘
The Swahili phrase he cited is sometimes translated as, “How are the children?”
“It is perhaps surprising to us that this phrase, ‘Kasserian ingera,’ literally asks the question, ‘Are the children well?’” Woodall said. “You see, it is still the traditional greeting amongst the Masai warrior tribe, and they acknowledge that the value of wellbeing is not found in self but rather is found in the condition of our young people, of the children.”
He used the phrase literally, for actual children, but also figuratively to mean, “the most vulnerable amongst us, those who are living in the margins, those who we find in the prisons and those don’t have access to care,” he said.
“You see, like the Masai warriors, the NAACP is full of people that have been strategically positioned to ask the question, ‘Are the children well?’” Woodall continued. “But unfortunately, if we are to be truthful and honest with each other and with ourselves, we must respond, ‘No, the children are not well.’”
He also made use of the quote, “I can’t breathe,” the last words of Eric Garner, who died after he was forced to the ground by New York Police Department officers and held in a chokehold by one of the officers, July 17, 2014.
Too many people in America “can’t breathe because of the suffocation of a lack of access to health care. They can’t breathe due to polluted air and lead-contaminated water. They can’t breathe because they are being suffocated due to a poor education system, mass incarceration…, “ Woodall said.
Black people, he said, are still facing discrimination in the schools, on the job and even in their own neighborhoods.
“You see, this is the state of black America. … and you see, around the world it gets worse,” Woodall said. “Black babies are more than twice as likely as a white or Latino infant and three times as likely as an Asian infant to die during the first year of life, then not even talking about that black mother who is less likely to receive adequate care when she gets hospitalized and that father who is still twice as likely to be unemployed.”
While calling on the membership to have faith and “speak truth to power,” he specifically referred to fighting for “$15 an hour and Medicaid expansion.”
“It’s by faith we know that there’s no challenge that can’t be met…,” Woodall said near the end of his speech. “We believe that God wants everybody to be lifted, not just black people, not just white people, not just poor people, not just rich people, not just Democrats nor Republicans, but everybody can be lifted.”
Woodall led the crowd in applause for all past presidents of the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP: the late Rev. Patrick Jones, who served 1965-1980; Roosevelt “Sam” Love, 1980-1983; Alethia Lewis, 1984-1996; the late Donnell “Donnie” Simmons, 1997-2002; Carlos C. Brown Jr., 2003-2006 and Pearl H. Brown, 2007-2018.
All four living past presidents were present, as was Dorothy Simmons, wife of the late Donnie Simmons.
Gaskins presented the President’s Award to Sophia H. Johnson; a Special Life Membership to Sam Love; Life Memberships to Marsha Brown Twiggs, Roland Love, Gwen Lane, Linda Roberts and
Philip Dickerson. Million Dollar Club recognition went to Carlos Brown, Pearl Brown, Gloria Hagins and Delinda Gaskins.