Long known for its civil rights activism, NAN is putting women’s issues on the forefront with their 2014 convention taking place this week in New York City. We caught up with acting executive director Janaye Ingram to discuss the organization’s new initiatives.
ESSENCE: What is the National Action Network and what kind of work do you do?
Janaye Ingram: Our mission at The National Action Network (NAN) is to create one standard of justice for all people regardless of race, color, creed, religion, gender and sexual orientation. NAN has come to prominence for our focus on non-violent activism and civil disobedience. We focus on changing laws and having demonstrations in order to get legislation passed on a variety of issues like voting rights, police misconduct and abuse, education, workers’ rights and healthcare awareness. For instance, we’ve marched a lot in protest of stop-and-frisk in New York City to really dramatize the issue, and we’ve also met with then mayor Michael Bloomberg and former NYC police commissioner Ray Kelly to discuss alternatives to the practice.
ESSENCE: Talk to me about your role specifically.
Ingram: As acting executive director, I oversee the organization’s programming. My focuses are: How do we change laws? How do we make sure that our people on the ground are coming together around these issues? We have more than 80 chapters across the country, and my job is to create a coordinated effort among them all. So once we get movement in Florida on Stand Your Ground laws, I step in to decide what we need to do in the next state to create a domino effect where we ultimately foster change.
ESSENCE: How do you get communities involved?
Ingram: We have a lot of faith-based partnerships where ministers help promote the issues within their congregations. Also, we build coalitions through a broad swath of civil rights and human rights organizations. Lastly, our founder, Rev. Al Sharpton, has a nationally syndicated radio show, and he often talks about challenges we’re facing on-air.
ESSENCE: How is NAN working to incorporate women’s rights into its overall mission?
Ingram: When I joined NAN in 2011, I felt like there was an opportunity to really develop programming focused on women. There are a lot of issues that women are dealing with, like reproductive healthcare and income parity. It’s important for us to align with each other and partner within traditional civil rights organizations. At this year’s NAN convention, we have two events geared towards women. The first is the Women’s Brain Trust, co-sponsored with ESSENCE, where panelists will discuss how we can affect change in today’s society. The second is the Women’s Power Breakfast, where we’ll honor several women at the top of their fields who are leading the charge when it comes to civil rights and media. Women are part of a broader focus at NAN and we’ll continue to lift up women’s issues in the fight for civil rights for all.
ESSENCE: How can readers get involved?
Ingram: Readers in the New York City area can come to the convention—it’s free and open to the public, just sign up at nationalactionnetwork.net. Attend the Women’s Brain Trust and weigh in on issues you think are important.