Michigan millennial leads nation’s largest NAACP branch

Kamilia Landrum | Ken Coleman photo

Kamilia Landrum is on the move.

Kamala Harris

At 30, she’s the youngest Detroit NAACP executive director in the branch’s 107 years. The Detroit branch is the organization’s largest and has a storied history, winning several legal battles, including a 1954 case ending segregation in Detroit public housing. 

Landrum started with the NAACP in 2012. She earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and management from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. She also holds a master’s degree in public administration from Wayne State University.

The Advance talked to Landrum this week about Michigan’s historic 2018 election; her goals as a branch leader; having presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) as the civil rights organization’s keynote speaker during its May 5 annual fundraiser; and hosting the national NAACP conference this summer.

Michigan Advance: Michigan voters elected women to statewide executive roles in government in record numbers. Do you think that is important?

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speaking at her inauguration at the Capitol, Jan. 1, 2019 | Nick Manes

Landrum: It is important that women are in executive and leadership roles to help bring a diversity of thought, ideas and representation to the table. We need not only need women, but women who represent diverse backgrounds and who have different life experiences to have a government that is truly representative of the people it serves.

Michigan Advance: What does it mean to have U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris as your Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner keynote speaker?

Landrum: Sen. Harris is an inspiration to many women as she seeks to make history with her most recent announcement. To see her stand in her strength and courage at the Freedom Fund Dinner is a sight I cannot wait to see.

Michigan Advance: The NAACP will hold its national convention in Detroit this year. Why is that significant?

Detroit | Creative Commons

Landrum: It is significant because Detroit deserves to be on the national stage.  This year, 2019, is crucial in laying the groundwork for two upcoming events the 2020 Election and 2020 Census. Detroit, home to the largest NAACP branch in the association, will get to be a major factor in helping to set the tone and agenda for the NAACP’s focus.

Michigan Advance: I believe that you are the [second] woman to hold this position. What does that mean to you?

Landrum: I am the second woman to serve as executive director. It is exciting and humbling. I have been committed to the association since I was a teenager and firmly believe in the work we do. I consider it an honor to be able to help lead the charge and to sustain the members we have, but also bridge the gap and help to bring on those in my generation to build the next generation of social justice advocates.

Michigan Advance: How to you answer critics who say the Detroit branch [of the NAACP] isn’t in tune with everyday people who are struggling economically?

Landrum: I encourage those critics to take another look at the Detroit branch.  One area of particular focus on is economic sustainability. It is a priority for us. We lend our voice to advocating for greater wages and access to contracting opportunities.

We are also continuously working to make sure there is access to quality jobs and developing skills needed to compete in today’s workforce with our Jobs Club and annual Career Fair. We also encourage spending dollars in the city and supporting of Black businesses with our Shop Detroit campaign.  

We have held sessions with the city of Detroit’s Department of Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity and the Detroit Land Bank Authority to help educate and energize members of the community on how to participate in this current cycle of expansion and development happening in the city.

And we are still fighting. We know Detroiters still pay way too much for auto and home insurance. We are fighting on behalf of everyday people.

Michigan Advance: When you aren’t doing NAACP work, what do you like to do for hobbies?

Landrum: I love decorating, both homes and special events. I like to create décor that is reflective of an individual’s personality and that makes them feel beautiful, inspired and excited.

Michigan Advance: Who are your mentors?

NAACP leaders with poster | Wikimedia Commons

Landrum:  I’ve learned so many valuable lessons from my mentors — most importantly, [I’ve found] do not name names in questions like these. Yes, I have mentors in the very traditional sense, some I’ve known since childhood and others I’ve met professionally in more recent years. I’m thankful for the seeds they have sown into my life, but more important to me are the people that I consider my energizers; the people that fuel my commitment to do this work.

My energizers are our ancestors that fought against slavery and broke through unimaginable barriers in search of equal rights, the freedom fighters that orchestrated and died during the Civil Rights Movement, women who were unafraid to stand up or speak up for their beliefs, young people who do not know how to advocate for themselves, and men and women who are marginalized and being treated unfairly.

Every time I hit an obstacle or I feel discouraged, I pull on their strengths to keep me going, I remember who I’m doing the work for and why it’s important. Instantly, I get recharged to figure out the best way to get the job done.

Michigan Advance: Can we expect new programmatic things at the branch during your tenure?

Creative Commons

Landrum: The Detroit branch is already a leader in the number of programs that we offer. Our program areas cover economic sustainability, education, civic engagement, criminal justice and health.

During my tenure, we will continue to evaluate and refine the programs we offer to make sure we are adhering to the standards set forth by our national office, our members who shape our advocacy work, and by assessing the needs of the community we serve every day.

Ultimately, I want to engage those who hold social justice and civil rights advocacy high on their list of values and provide ample opportunities to advance members of the community in alignment with our focus areas.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman reports on Southeast Michigan, education, civil rights and voting rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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