Controversial movement is challenging traditional black organizations with ‘Project Takeover’
Activists who describe their identity as American Descendants of Slavery, or ADOS, left a national conference last month with plans to join the NAACP and National Urban League.
Jasmine Hardy began listening to YouTube videos by Antonio Moore and Yvette Carnell, cofounders of the controversial movement known as ADOS, a little more than a year ago.
Those letters stand for American Descendants of Slavery, a group that went from relative obscurity to national prominence over the last several months, and its discussions on reparations, the Byron Allen lawsuit against Comcast, and the racial wealth gap — where the median non-Hispanic white family has a net worth of about $143,000, compared with nearly $13,000 for the median black family — propelled Hardy into activism.
Hardy, of Maple Shade, watched the videos and read the books on Carnell’s book club list, and began to learn about policies and laws that contributed to redlining, segregation, and mass incarceration that blocked many black Americans from building generational wealth.
“What they were saying made so much sense, and explained quite a bit about my life and the lives of my family and friends,” said Hardy, 30, who is studying information technology.
She was so moved to act that in early October, Hardy and her boyfriend drove to ADOS’s first national conference in Louisville, Ky.
There, Carnell, who operates the “Breaking Brown” YouTube channel, called for a new political strategy, one that appears to contradict the outside disrupter image on which ADOS was built: Join local chapters of the NAACP and the Urban League, and go back to churches, mosques, and other religious organizations to push for social justice change.
“We have to stop staying at home and not getting involved as some kind of power play [and saying], ‘I don’t want to join the NAACP because they don’t do nothing,’” Carnell said in a speech announcing Project Takeover. ”They don’t do nothing because you ain’t there.”
Seventeen days after the ADOS conference ended, Hardy went to an Oct. 22 meeting of the Southern Burlington County NAACP chapter.
As the chapter talked about its plans to host a screening of Harriet, a film about the life of abolitionist Harriet Tubman, Hardy pointed out that the production company behind the movie is Focus Features. That’s owned by Comcast, the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed by Allen being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Crystal D. Charley-Sibley, president of the Burlington County chapter, said she was impressed with Hardy’s knowledge.
“While I was very much aware of the Comcast case and the national NAACP position on the case, I was not aware of the connection with Focus Features,” she said. “She was able to connect the dots.”
Two days later, the chapter voted unanimously to cancel the screening.
The tale of two organizations
Charley-Sibley, 38, said the NAACP branch has a younger membership than most local chapters and
welcomes activism from those who say they are with ADOS. Different groups should not work “in silos,” she said.
But until this point, ADOS had worked alone, and was known for scolding traditional black organizations for ignoring issues it had identified as priorities: reparations and the racial wealth gap.
Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, chief of race, wealth, and community at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, has been researching racial economic inequality since 2004 and once headed the NAACP’s economic department. He said Moore has been very good at taking complicated information, once mainly discussed in academia and think tanks, and making it easy for the average person to understand.
It’s also meant that a new generation of activists is first exposed to complex topics such as wealth inequality through Twitter and YouTube, which makes the traditional organizations seem more staid. Either way, he said, new and old organizations are working on similar issues — just with a different framework.
”The NAACP and the Urban League have economic aspects of their work, but they might be focused on housing, home ownership, employment, and entrepreneurship,” Asante-Muhammad said. “It’s about creating wealth, but is not [work] that has been done through a racial wealth divide frame.”
Derrick Johnson, the national NAACP president, did not respond to calls or emails seeking comment on Project Takeover. And a spokesperson for National Urban League president Marc H. Morial said he was not available to comment, but emailed a Sept. 11 news release announcing the organization’s opposition to Comcast’s position.
Activists such as Hardy say the NAACP and traditional civil rights groups have been slow to respond to Comcast, whereas Moore’s and Carnell’s videos have discussed the Comcast case for months.
Many ADOS supporters say they believe the national organizations are speaking out now only because of the groundwork ADOS laid by bombarding Congressional Black Caucus members with calls, emails, and tweets to take a more vocal stand.
For instance, on Nov. 2, one critic tweeted to the caucus asking U.S. Reps. Maxine Waters (D., Calif.), Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.), and Bobby Rush (D., Ill.) why they had not signed a letter supporting an amicus brief that U.S. Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris filed. By Nov. 7, Rush had mailed a letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, saying the corporation should be dismantled.
Then there’s immigration
ADOS’s reputation for being anti-immigrant, though, remains for many observers.
People who identify with ADOS base their identity on a “lineage” descended from enslaved black people in this country. They increasingly see themselves as an ethnic group distinct from recent immigrants from African and Caribbean countries.
On his “Tonetalks” program, Moore has said ADOS was established to set boundaries for who is owed the debt for slavery and the Jim Crow laws that followed.
“What’s happening now is you can come here from West Africa and you can access Jackie Robinson scholarships and Thurgood Marshall programs because you’re black.
"But I can’t go to Nigeria and access anything.”