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Marylander of the Year finalists: Ben Jealous

Four years after taking the helm of the NAACP and ushering in a generational change for the nation’s oldest and most prominent civil rights organization, Ben Jealous arrived as a major force in American politics this year. At a time when restrictive voter identification laws and the purging of voter rolls in some states threatened to disenfranchise millions of minority voters, Mr. Jealous stepped up the NAACP’s voter registration and mobilization -- an effor that played no small part in President Barack Obama’s victory in November.

Saying "our democracy is under attack from within," Mr. Jealous helped rally public support against voter ID laws, some of which were struck down or limited before election day. Meanwhile, his organization registered more than 1 million new voters and brought more than 2.5 million to the polls, significantly more than the NAACP managed in the historic 2008 election, when the nation chose its first African-American president. Meanwhile, Mr. Jealous continued to fight against racial profiling and mass incarceration, and he helped bring public attention to the Trayvon Martin case. In November, he announced that the NAACP would make the repeal of Maryalnd’s death penalty a top priority in 2013.

Mr. Jealous also helped orchestrate the NAACP’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, which, along with President Obama’s announcement of support, helped marriage equality measures succeed in Maryland, Maine and Washington.

His efforts earned him the 2012 Puffin/Nation Prize for Creative Citizenship, awarded annually "to an individual who has challenged the status quo through distinctive, courageous, imaginative, and socially responsible work of significance." Puffin Foundation President Perry Rosenstein called Mr. Jealous "a front-line fighter of justice and equality, and a visionary who sees the interconnected nature of all kinds of human rights struggles."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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