Tiffany Dena Loftin arrived this month as the NAACP’s new director of the Youth & College Division at a critical – even urgent – time when many young African-Americans are clamoring for ways to get involved in social justice movements to resist violence and oppression.
Tiffany Dena Loftin
Although she is just 28, Loftin has been organizing workers and communities since her days as a student at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has worked in the Center for Social Justice at the National Education Association, as a program coordinator with the AFL-CIO Labor Commission on Racial and Economic Justice and with the American Federation of Teachers.
“I am very, very, excited at this political moment to be asked and provided with the responsibility of leading this division,” she told Diverse in a phone interview. “I can see the power and potential and opportunity of this fantastic organization.”
As NAACP youth director, Loftin will lead the organization’s 700 youth units, which include college and high school chapters as well as neighborhood youth branches. As a former president of the United States Student Association, she is familiar with students’ issues and concerns. One of the things she knows about young people is that “they are going to look for organizations that reflect their interests” and they won’t spend time in groups that don’t.
Based on recent conversations with student members, she said, they are interested in joining fellow students in Florida and elsewhere to demonstrate for stronger gun legislation in the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting.
In her first few weeks on board, she said NAACP youth already have shared their interest in participating in student-led walkouts and marches. “Our students are very intentional about standing in solidarity with the families of those who have lost loved ones, but also making sure our voices don’t go silent. And I think one of the responsibilities of the NAACP in general is to make sure the voices of Black and Brown communities don’t go silent.”
The organization selected Loftin for youth and college director because of her “clear passion for the kind of membership-based organizing that fuels the NAACP,” NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson said in announcing her appointment. He added that with her background in labor and student organizing, “Tiffany understands and invests in the power of grassroots activism.”
Johnson, a longtime civil rights leader from Mississippi, was chosen last year to lead the 109-year-old organization based in Baltimore, Md.
Loftin believes her role is to not only support the students, but to take them to the next level. “I help them filter through how they show up and participate. I ask them the smart questions around logistics, strategy and the programmatic pieces. Where’s our policy demands? Where’s our strategy around electoral organizing?”
Loftin said she supports students in their planning but makes sure that her support includes the components of leadership development, political action and membership recruiting. So she’s encouraging students who attend the events to be speakers at the rallies, recruit members and register people to vote.
Loftin’s long-term goals in her new position involve forming more partnerships with other advocacy groups, including those serving communities of color, the incarcerated and the LGBT+ community.
She acknowledged a belief among some Black youth that the NAACP isn’t youth-oriented. She said student membership is growing, although she didn’t have precise numbers.
The key to growth is keeping the agenda focused on the members, she said. For example, the youth chapters determine their own advocacy issues, she noted. “It’s going to be really, really important that we continue to shift on the ground and make the changes necessary to reflect our members’ interests. … The only way we can continue to recruit members is if we support them and shape our agenda based on what people say in the field.”
Loftin said she used a line inspired by the ‘Black Panther’ movie in a recent meeting with youth members.
“I told them the NAACP isn’t going anywhere,” said Loftin. “In the film they say, ‘Wakanda forever.’ I say, ‘NAACP forever.’”