It's been tough attracting young people to join the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
But the Rev. Mark E. Blue, the incoming president of Buffalo's NAACP branch, said the recent presidential election is helping to reverse that trend.
"Those who are younger, they are mad, they are upset, and they want to do something about it," said Blue, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Lackawanna.
The election represents a good opportunity to talk about the importance of voting and political engagement, Blue said. It's also an opportunity to educate people about the role of the NAACP.
That educational mission will be one of his first priorities as local president, he said.
Blue will be sworn in Monday night at Friendship Baptist Church in Buffalo, becoming the chapter's first new president in 20 years following the retirement of his predecessor, Frank B. Mesiah.
People aren't only confused about their voice in the election process, he said; they're also confused about what the NAACP fundamentally stands for. That's something the Buffalo chapter needs to educate the community about.
"It is not a whipping tool for everyone’s issue," he said. "We are a civil rights organization. We deal with civil rights issues."
The NAACP faces competition, particularly among younger generations more drawn to the social media and street-level activism of the Black Lives Matter movement. While the NAACP fights for many of the same issues, it is considered more institutionally and strategically driven.
Blue said the NAACP's focus is broader and involves people of all ethnicities. The term "colored people" in the organization's name doesn't just refer to African-Americans, he said, but to the civil rights of people of every color. The Buffalo chapter, for instance, counts many whites, Hispanics, and Asians among its members, he said.
"It’s like a box of crayons," he said. "Everybody has a color."
Like Mesiah, Blue is a military veteran. After graduating from Burgard Vocational High School with a diploma in aviation, he served with the Air Force Reserve for 20 years and worked as an aircraft propulsion technician at the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.
But despite earning an associate degree in aerospace technology in 2001, he said he found his dreams about reaching space less compelling than his dreams about spreading the word of God as a Baptist minister. He eventually earned his bachelor's degree from the Rochester Center of Theological and Biblical Studies and is taking online coursework to earn his master's.
He joined First Timothy Missionary Baptist Church in 1969 and became assistant pastor there in 1987. He remained there until 2001, when he accepted the position as pastor of Second Baptist Church in Lackawanna.
Sunday marked his 15th anniversary at the church, which draws about 125 people to services, he said. He has also completed his tenure as president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Buffalo and Vicinity.
Beyond religious work, Blue is head of the Lackawanna Chamber of Commerce, the organization's first African-American president. But Blue said he is resigning that post now that he is leading the local NAACP, for which he has been involved in religious and education outreach for years.
Though re-educating the community about the NAACP and dispelling myths is a priority for Blue, he also wants the Buffalo chapter to maintain a focus on the incarcerated, youth outreach and racial disparities in the workforce.