John Gaskin III, the new St. Louis County NAACP president, says there are two local civil rights issues he wants to address: community policing and employment.
Gaskin, 26, announced Friday that he would be become president of the branch. He replaces longtime President Esther Haywood. The former Missouri legislator is 78.
“I want to thank the Honorable Esther Haywood, because, if not for her, none of this would be possible. It was through her leadership and my parents ... I got involved with the NAACP at the age of 9,” Gaskin said at a news conference at the Chester Inn in Clayton.
“Learning at the feet of trailblazers and strong women, such as Ina Boon and Esther Haywood, I learned invaluable lessons about leadership, organizing, fundraising and coalition building.”
Gaskin joined the NAACP National Board of Directors in 2014. He works as a diversity and inclusion outreach manager for the St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.
At the news conference, he outlined five areas in which he wants to partner with regional groups to address education and employment, including a county police affairs committee led by St. Louis County Police Lt. Col. Troy Doyle to focus on “civil complaints, and on identifying and instilling the best practices for hiring and promotion” to ensure diversity.
“We’ve got some real criminal justice challenges. I think it is incumbent upon us to work closely with our incoming prosecuting attorney to express a spirit of cooperation, working closely with the county executive’s office as well, to make sure we support that department as well as supporting our law enforcement,” Gaskin said. “But at the same time putting in place accountability standards, making sure they are fair, across the board.”
Doyle said he hopes to be a “conduit” on racial and diversity issues in and outside of the department, noting increased focus on community policing in the region since 2014. The St. Louis County NAACP supported a Missouri travel ban for black drivers in 2017, deeming state policies discriminatory.
Gaskin said he also wants to improve the way the public can submit civil rights complaints to the group digitally and improve communication through texts and emails.
St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger and U.S. Rep Lacy Clay, D-University City, both of whom won races Tuesday, attended the announcement. They congratulated Gaskin and vowed to continue their partnership with the civil rights group under his leadership.
“Historically, the NAACP has been a vital instrument to advance civil rights, voting rights, equal opportunity, criminal justice reform and economic justice,” Clay said. “My agenda is their agenda.”
Now a senior member of the House of Representatives, and a member of the majority party, Clay said he and his colleagues are determined to address national voter suppression issues,in addition to investigating President Donald Trump — about which Trump has warned them.
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.