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Editorial: Retiring head of the local NAACP has changed Buffalo for the better

Frank Mesiah, it seems, has always been a man on a mission: soldier; master’s degree graduate; Buffalo cop; schoolteacher; state discrimination watchdog; civil rights leader. His is an inspiring American story that unfolded here in Buffalo.

Now, at 88, Mesiah is drawing the curtain on part of that story, preparing to step down as the president of the local NAACP, a position he has held for the past 20 years. Under his influence, before and during his presidency, the lives of thousands of people were improved.

Not everyone saw eye to eye with Mesiah and that, of course, is the point. You don’t make important changes easily; hearts and minds have to be changed, as well, along with attitudes and habits. That creates friction. Mesiah created the necessary friction to foment change, first as a member, then as leader of the NAACP.

With the benefit of his direct influence, the Buffalo chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed federal lawsuits to force desegregation of the Buffalo Public Schools and the Buffalo Police Department; advocated for women and other minorities, including senior citizens, gays and lesbians; and fought efforts to restrict African-American homeowners from certain city neighborhoods.

These were some of the crucial fights of the 20th century. Here and around the country, they confronted the personal and institutional racism that has blighted the nation since the first slave ship arrived from Africa. It continues today.

Here, the responsibility for that work now shifts to Mesiah’s successor, the Rev. Mark E. Blue, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Lackawanna. Blue, who just celebrated his 15th anniversary at the church, sees his task in part as educating people about the mission of the NAACP, especially as it compares to newer civil rights efforts such as Black Lives Matter. He also wants the organization to focus on incarcerated people, youth outreach and racial disparities in the workforce. All are worthy of the NAACP’s attention.

The time of change in the country is also a time of renewal for the NAACP. Mesiah said this year’s raw and confrontational election is attracting young people to the cause of civil rights. That makes it a good time for change. And after 20 years as Buffalo’s leading civil rights advocate, he has earned a chance to do something else.

Now, the mantle falls to Blue. We wish him well in that necessary work and thank Mesiah for his many years of valuable service to this city.

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