FOR YEARS, Jerome Whyatt Mondesire and Donald "Ducky" Birts were best friends.
That's hard to believe these days, as Birts and two other former Philadelphia NAACP officers continue to question whether Mondesire, the chapter's longtime president, has mismanaged its finances and jeopardized its members.
"You either lose a best friend or go to jail. I'm not going to jail for no one," Birts said. "Mr. Mondesire got power-drunk. He thinks the NAACP belongs to him."
Mondesire, for the third time since the dispute arose, hung up when asked to comment on the accusations from Birts, restaurateur Sid Booker and the Rev. Elisha Morris. In statements, Mondesire has said that no NAACP money is missing and that the criticisms result from a personal vendetta.
Birts, Booker and Morris, who recently stepped down from their NAACP posts as Mondesire was moving to have them canned, invited the press to a "community meeting" last night at the same time as an executive-committee meeting of the Philadelphia chapter. About 35 people showed up for the community meeting at Sid Booker's Shrimp Corner, at Broad Street and Belfield Avenue.
As first reported by AxisPhilly, the three men are demanding that Mondesire respond to 22 questions about the group's finances, and they have asked the national NAACP to audit the Philadelphia chapter. One concern is the relationship between the NAACP and the Next Generation Community Development Corp., an apparently defunct nonprofit agency through which Mondesire allegedly has been passing NAACP money.
Birts, Booker and Morris said they are three of the nonprofit's five founding board members but had trusted Mondesire with its management over the years.
"We allowed friendship to get in the way . . . of oversight," Morris said. "We've never had a board meeting, a financial meeting."
Gerard Egan, a lawyer representing the three men, said he had filed a complaint with the state Attorney General's Office but had not heard back. A spokesman for the A.G.'s charitable trusts and organizations division in Philadelphia said he could not comment on whether an investigation had begun.
Several NAACP executive-committee members, including former treasurer Jennifer Whitfield, attended the community meeting.
At one point, Whitfield took to the microphone to say that the three men should hold off on attacks until the national NAACP investigates the complaints.
"Your questions need to be answered," she said. "You have to give it time."
Mount Airy Church of God In Christ Pastor J. Louis Felton, an executive-committee member who said the opening prayer at the alternative meeting, said in an interview that Mondesire should answer the 22 questions.
"We need one NAACP," he said. "It's in shambles right now. Our confidence is shaken."