Sunday, April 08, 2001

Profiling stirred student's activism


Founded UC's NAACP chapter

By Marie McCain
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Robert Richardson Jr. likes driving his father's cars.

        The latest is a Ford Expedition, a honey of a sport utility vehicle that has gotten him in trouble from time to time.

        He says it makes police wonder — and then pull him over — three times. Police issued a ticket only once.

Richardson
Robert Richardson Jr.
        “Police officers have felt the need to make sure I should be driving that car,” the 22-year-old electrical engineering student testified before Cincinnati City Council last month.

        “They ask me if it's my car. They check my papers. When they find out it's my father's car, they let me go.”

        Racial profiling is more than a hypothetical concept to this African-American college senior who hopes to attend Harvard Law School.

        It is one reason Mr. Richardson fought so hard to found and maintain a student chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People at the University of Cincinnati. Now in its third year, with about 40 active members, the UC group is the only NAACP student chapter in the Tristate.

        Nationwide, there are 185 active NAACP college chapters, but many more are needed, said Jeffrey Johnson, director of the national NAACP's Youth and College Division.

        “It's a myth that most young people today are apathetic,” he said. “That's an illusion.”

        Mr. Richardson and his group are trying to get a guarantee from UC administrators about the rebuilding of the African American Cultural and Research Center.

        “We want assurances that the new building will be just as big, if not bigger, than the old one,” he said. “And we want a research component added to the project. We want a full, detailed library about African-American history.”

THE NAACP
   The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People — founded in 1909 in New York
   City by a multiracial group committed to social justice — is the nation's largest civil rights organization.
   The NAACP's objective is to ensure social and economic equality and eliminate prejudice.
   The organization, which has its headquarters in Baltimore, backs federal, state and local laws supporting civil rights, and seeks to educate the public on the problem of racial discrimination.
   According to its Web site, the NAACP is composed of more than 2,200 chapters worldwide. The organization's membership exceeds 500,000.
        UC spokesman Greg Hand said there is no need for such a guarantee since there are no plans to do away with the center itself.

        There are plans to demolish and rebuild the structure that houses it, and the center will be moved to another building on campus. Mr. Hand did not know when the building, once the cafeteria of a dorm torn down 10 years ago, would be demolished.

        Mr. Richardson's determination has earned him and the chapter notice on- and off-campus.

        This year, the group sponsored a seminar on racial profiling featuring city leaders, including Councilman John Cranley, and Cincinnati Police Lt. Col. Ron Twitty.

        Mr. Richardson was asked to testify about racial profiling before the law committee of Cincinnati City Council.

        He's also working with state Sen. Mark Mallory and state Rep. Sam Britton, two Cincinnati Democrats, on legislation that would give student trustees a vote on the university's Board of Trustees.

        It was this kind of activism in one so young that first drew Dr. Milton Hinton's attention to Mr. Richardson — that and his height. At 6-foot-5, Robert Richardson Jr. is hard to miss.

        Dr. Hinton, the recently retired president of the Cincinnati NAACP, said he worried that Mr. Richardson eventually would lose interest in the organization.

        That hasn't happened.

        College chapters “fill the breach” between older and younger NAACP members, Dr. Hinton said.

        “They maintain what the young people have learned in the youth councils and they really, in fact, will be the future leaders of the organization,” he said.

        As a freshman from Springfield Township, Mr. Richardson decided that a college chapter should become a conduit for historical information, current events and issues advocacy.

        He started simply, working on one of the NAACP's main initiatives, registering students to vote. Each person he registered, he asked to join.

        On a cold February night in 1998, Mr. Richardson led UC's first student NAACP meeting. Seven months later, the group had 25 active members and was awarded its charter from the national organization.

        “I have a good network of friends and through them I got a good turnout,” he said.

        “But there were times when I didn't know if I wanted to keep doing this. It just got hard. But I felt strongly that college students have to know about their history to know about themselves. They have to pay attention to current events and the issues that affect them,” he said.

        Chapter member Devon Shepherd, 19, of Columbus, said Mr. Richardson has created a foundation that other leaders will build on.

        “Robert is very passionate about the NAACP and young people in general,” Ms. Shepherd said.

        “He works very hard, and he has worked to leave a legacy once he has graduated.

        “It is a way for students, particularly minority students, to know what's going on. Too many times things happen at the last minute. Here we know what's going on and let others know so we can take action,” she said.

        Mr. Richardson's parents, Robert Sr. and Sherri Richardson, are members of the Cincinnati NAACP chapter and raised their son, and his older sister, Tasha, 27, to be socially conscious and civically active.

        The elder Richardson works as a union official and is an NAACP board member.

        “I wasn't sure if he could handle running and coordinating a chapter, while also handling electrical engineering,” the elder Mr. Richardson said.

        But he agreed there was a need for such a group on campus.

        “The campus is a reflection of the general population, and you may not have the exact same issues (as in the real world) but you do have problems there.”
       
       



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