Jun 8, 2017

In her own words, Liz Smith's resignation from NAACP, feelings about growing up in Humboldt, Chief Mills and more

June 8, 2017
Dear John,
It seems quite befitting that I would be writing a “Dear John” letter and having you be the conduit of my resignation from the last leadership post I have carried for an organization that I did not start, in this case, the Eureka Branch of the NAACP.
Like my resignations from the Eureka Elk’s Lodge Officers and the Boys & Girls Club, my hands are being forced. What can I say, I have my intentions and timing and God has his.

It is incredible to see the 180 degree transformation that my life has taken since being awarded the incredible honor of the Humboldt County Peacemaker Prize last April, being named one of Boys & Girls Club of America’s top CEO’s and starting my Harvard Executive leadership journey last July. I was by most indications, happy, and using my God given gifts to serve. I had few inclinations back then that I was living a life that was not fully realized and fulfilling, that there is a difference between happiness and joy and that discerning between serving out of obligation and duty is markedly different than serving with a joyful heart.
My parents would likely say that I have always marched to a beat of a different drummer and that there have been times in my life that I didn’t just march but danced to a syncopated rhythm. These are one of those times.

The North Coast Journal asked me to write an article about race relations less than eight months ago. I have always loved the written word. That adorable young woman on the Arcata Plaza who sits with a typewriter during Farmer’s Market and will write you a poem in an hour. I can do that and in Iambic Pentameter. Thank God to Mrs. Kathleen Salter for copious reasons, one of them being that she helped me perfect the Pressure Comp. When given this charge, I immediately said “yes” and then found myself regretting this decision almost as quickly. What did I have to say about race? Why would I speak about race? I had no official charge in this capacity.

Unlike my father, I did not have a scholarly background and clout in the anthropological, sociological, psychological significance of race. I had not even been voted in as the next NAACP President by this time. Shoot, I had only recently been kind of accepted by the Black community. College of the Redwoods and Humboldt State students ask me all of the time, “what was it like growing up in Humboldt County?” “Weren’t white people awful to you?”

 I answer the same way all of the time. I can count on one hand the number of blatantly racist comments I received growing up here by white people. The number of Black people who have spoken ill of me, to me and acted in deplorable and heart wrenching ways, are now too many to count. 

John, I shared with you during our long conversation last Friday, my recent epiphany of where the term “sell out” comes from.  I believe that this comes from Africans selling other Africans into slavery. It is no coincident that African Americans are the ethnic minority group with the most distressing statistics, we have a huge karmic debt to address and until we do this, agree that we are a diverse people with a myriad of dreams and that we need to support one another, we have no damn business berating white people or any other for not supporting us. Like my impromptu speech during the last Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir Prayer Breakfast and the excerpts you took from our discussion and posted on your blog last week, my words will undoubtedly be misunderstood and even angering to many readers.  The greatest gift in the crucible that has been my life since publicly losing my marriage to the Boys & Girls Club is that I no longer care what others think of my words. Fortunately for me, I have worked as hard on achieving academic and professional goals as I have on my spiritual strength. I know the intentions of my heart and the thoughtfulness I take in my speech. However one receives me is through their own lenses and I cannot control how clean they are.

Another heartbreak for me and the first one you documented was realizing that one of my mentors, Patrick Cleary, had lied to me. This has been a gift as well. I am now able to better discern the difference between worship and reverence and that oftentimes, dual relationships are bound to fail. I mistook mentorship for friendship and that being a mentee garnered the same respect as being a mentor. Patrick has put implicit bias at the forefront of my mind and through my ever-revised lenses, is helping me see it in every difficult interaction and relationship that I have. This includes my relationship with our local NAACP Branch.
I do not question the heart of 1st Vice President Donn Peterson. I know Donn to be a good man, a thoughtful man and one who is personally and professionally committed to the core tenets of the NAACP. I believe that the Secretary, Sharrone Blanck, and the Media Correspondent, Lorna Bryant, to be committed to the NAACP’s core as well. Believing in a mission, vision and value system and enlivening it are different and trickier still is being aligned with the leadership in carrying out these ideals. All three of these NAACP Executive Committee members know what I have been experiencing, with Lorna, as one I considered my best friend in Humboldt County, knew the most. To read in this afternoon’s press release that I have been non-communicative and the allusion that I am a coward hurts my heart, however makes the choice to step down as local President, obvious and timely. To see the article in this morning’s Times-Standard documenting Chief Mills’ departure from our community, I feel ever more at ease in making this decision. Openly and safely addressing the Black Lives Matter movement and the Blue Lives Matter movement was one of many areas in which Chief Mills and I had the opportunity to work together. Leadership is lonely and thankless. Volunteer leadership is even more so.  When you lose mentors, through whatever means, it makes your leadership role even more challenging and questionable.
John, like you, I have always done my best to stand up for the truth. I try not to take fixed positions on people or parties, rather dig through the distractions and find the core truth and support it. In my Arcata Interfaith Gospel Choir speech, I emphasized the need for people of color and “white allies” to not get distracted by emotion in facing inconvenient truths. Our most recent and painful example is the killing of Josiah “DJ” Lawson. I absolutely agree that justice should be sought. I ardently disagree that hosting protests in which citizens are harassed and photos of Kyle with his home address on fliers that say “Let’s Get Justice for Josiah” are appropriate. Point of fact, the latter is an example of a lynching party request. Shaming media outlets for hosting blogs that are inflammatory, are in my eyes, not an effective use of the NAACP’s energy. Those on the NAACP Executive Committee who were invited to meetings to discuss this point of view, clearly disagree with me. These are the same people mind me, who have shown me through overt actions that issues I have been facing are trivial and getting in the way of NAACP business.  Majority rules and this minority is stepping down from the NAACP Presidency post.
John, thank you again for agreeing to graciously and courageously tell my truths and serve as a conduit for my voice.
Yours in joyful service,

Elizabeth Smith


  1. Thank you for your service, Liz...no one can replace you.

  2. Well written Ms.Smith. I appreciate your logical and practical view on race relations. I wish you well with your future endeavors.
    The NAACP forced out a good leader for the sake of pandering to the politically correct mass. Those who committed the overt acts against you are the real sellout in this story. As for the 1st VP, it seems that person only cares about their own advancement by co-opting the organization and it's mission.

  3. Maholo Nui John for being allowing Liz's voice to be heard!!!
    Liz, you have the most beautiful soul, mind, and smile! To say "thank you " for your transparency seems to be an understatment. What a deficit for the Boys and Girls Club, as well as NAACP to not have you. Keep shining, keep your faith, morals and most deffinatly KEEP BEING YOU!!!!! Mahalo Nui!!!

  4. The community, our country, and the African American community needs voices like yours. Thanks. Hope your future is bright.