Messenger - Vol. 1, No. 3, Page 6
Spring 1992
Staying Power

     All it took was one telephone call to the Wilmington office of
the NAACP, and the word was out.
     "Hi. We're doing an article about Keith Booker and we were
wondering if you could put us in touch with some of the people he
works with, so that we can get a more complete picture of him."
     "Yes," the secretary said, "but we're a volunteer organization
and we don't give out our members' telephone numbers.  But I can ask a
few people to call you."
     Within half an hour, the telephones were ringing. Everyone it
seems has something to say about Keith Booker, Delaware '78, and all
of it is good.
     Booker has been working in his hometown community since his
graduation, as the director of community services for crisis
elimination and community development at the Kingswood Community
Center in Wilmington's northeast section and, more recently, also as
president of the city's NAACP.
     "He really has something special going on," says Samuel Guy,
state president of the NAACP. "He took the Wilmington branch from a
marginally effective branch to one of the top branches in the country,
one recently recognized by the national organization. His involvement
in redistricting, voter registration and voter participation-his drive
for political empowerment of the minority community-will be his
legacy," Guy says.
     "He's done an awful lot for the community," Donna Bond, housing
chair of the Wilmington branch, says. "I am amazed at his leadership.
To be so young, strong, wise and caring. He is the kind of person who
gives more than he gets."
     "We have better cooperation between elected officials and
minorities because of him," Umar Hassan-El, political action chair of
the NAACP says. "He is deeply spiritual, energetic and couragous. He's
the one who graduated from college, got a job in the community and
     Booker didn't intend to devote his life to community service, but
once he started he just didn't stop. He initially intended to go to
law school after earning a joint bachelor's degree in political
science and American history,
     But it had taken the combined financial resources of his mother
and several brothers to get him through college, and he decided that
before pursuing more education, he wanted a chance to "give something
     "I started to look at the various communities in Wilmington to
see where there was the greatest need," he says. "I planned to stay
three to five years and then go to law school, but I just got caught
up. I saw that most people who came to help the community stayed a
couple of years and were gone. That depletes people's faith. I decided
someone had to stay and be involved."
     Booker became that someone, and he has been on the job for nearly
12 years.
     At the Kingswood Community Center, he helps people with emergency
needs like food, housing, clothing and fuel. He's worked with civic
associations, tenants' councils and anti-drug groups. And he sees his
volunteer work with the NAACP as an opportunity to continue helping
people in need.
     "Our social service agencies are overwhelmed with the needs of
their clients. The NAACP could be pro-active and maybe reach people
before the problems begin," he says.
     Booker says that he loves politics, a passion he developed early
in life.
     "I can remember, back when I was 5, taking lunch over to my
Mother when she worked at the polls. If her party was in power, she
got a catered lunch. If they weren't in power, my brothers and I took
her lunch over in a bag. I realized early on what political power can
     "One of the major problems in the African-American community is a
lack of any real political power. Only 25 percent of our eligible
voters (in Wilmington) are registered, and only about 15 percent of
those registered vote. That leads to a lack of response from a
government that could be making resources available."
     Booker's remedy is a massive voter registration drive reminiscent
of those held in the l960s. It was quite a coup for the local NAACP to
have the Rev. Jesse Jackson in town earlier this year, encouraging
black Wilmingtonians to register to vote.
     "Jackson's presence drove home the message that minorities need
to pay greater attention to voting," Booker says. "To have him kick
off our campaign drive really got the people's ear, really gave us
some attention.
     "The most important thing we can do is to show minorities that
their vote does make a difference. Lots of us thought we won victories
in the '60s and were lulled to sleep in the '70s and '80s. We thought
Dr. King's dream had been realized but it hasn't been. It's true that
there is a new black middle class and there are many more blacks with
college educations, but our lower class is worse off now than we were
as a whole in the '60s.
     "That's why we've chosen as our theme one with a biblical
basis-'If my brother's in trouble, so am I.' We're saying you can't be
satisfied if you're doing well and your brother is suffering."
     Booker's aggressive campaign, "Project 10,000," aims to register
l0,000 new voters in the city of Wilmington. "For many people,
registering to vote is the first step in regaining their lost
self-esteem," he says.
     "When I came to Kingswood in l980, it was an election year. They
use this as a polling place and not even l00 people came out to vote.
In l984, we succeeded in getting close to 500 people out. In l988, we
had over l,000 people voting here. It was the first time a politician
had ever visited the community, and the first time anyone had put up a
billboard down here. Candidates started listening. They're not
addressing issues yet, but they are listening.
     "I tell people it's gonna take time, but they're gonna know
you're here."
                                        -Beth Thomas