Two months into a hunger strike to protest actions by local NAACP leaders, Kobi Little sees no end to his fast and says the local branch "contradicts everything it stands for."
"An organization like the NAACP has a history of fighting to protect the right to vote. Here, they made a mistake," Mr. Little, 23, said Wednesday, referring to the organization's appeal of a court ruling that would allow dues-paying members ages 17 to 20 to vote for officers. "Once they went to court, the mistake was shown to them."
Mr. Little's bid for the nonpaying presidency of the 3,300-member Baltimore chapter NAACP is the focus of the court battle.
Mr. Little, a 1994 graduate of Johns Hopkins University and former president of its NAACP chapter, recruited about 500 new youth members to vote in the Nov. 28 local election. But they were barred from voting, and he sought a court order allowing them to vote.
In December, a city Circuit Court ruled that the National Association for Advancement of Colored People's constitution permits young members who have paid their annual $3 dues to vote for officers.
The NAACP national board had interpreted its constitution to mean that only youths who paid the $10 adult dues could vote. The local chapter filed an appeal.
Meanwhile, the election was suspended.
Mr. Little said he had not eaten since Feb. 12 to protest the NAACP's appeal. His only nourishment has been fruit juices, he said.
During that time, his weight has dropped from 195 pounds to 155 pounds.
"How in one breath does the NAACP leadership say black folks didn't come out to vote in 1994, and then when we have young black folks who want to get involved in affecting the world they live in, they're disenfranchised," he said.
Rodney A. Orange, president of the city branch of the NAACP since 1992, said Mr. Little's fast is "misplaced" and that his talents could be used elsewhere within the organization.
"I'm very concerned about his health, but he clearly understands the guidelines that are set up by the national NAACP," Mr. Orange said.
Mr. Orange said it has been a long-standing practice for youths who pay the $3 fees not to vote for officers. However, he conceded that it's "practice and procedure," and not stated in the organization's constitution.
He said Mr. Little is just seeking attention through his protest.
"We are hungry for youths to come to the branch and join the various committees," Mr. Orange said. "He doesn't need to do this."
Lisa R. Hodges, Mr. Little's attorney, said her client had tried unsuccessfully to reach an agreement with the NAACP.
"It's just too much standing on principles when they don't have any principles to stand on . . . " Ms. Hodges said. "The youths are losing faith in the organization."
Mr. Little said his fast will continue until the NAACP appeal is withdrawn.