After serving nearly nine years, Eric Richardson’s time in a leadership role at the Eugene Springfield NAACP is over.
Richardson says the decision was disappointing but he’s happy the organization isn’t reliant on just one leader. The local NAACP chapter dismissed Richardson as executive director on Nov. 29. Board Vice President Adam Wendt says the decision was made so the organization can find an executive director who meets current needs.
During Richardson’s near-decade of leadership at the local NAACP chapter, he worked with many community organizations, helped establish the Mims family in its deserved place in local history, assisted in creating the executive director position at the organization and provided services for low-income families during the pandemic.
“Unfortunately, it was something that I foresaw happening,” Richardson says about the board dismissing him as executive director after his role as a leader, but he says the abruptness of it caught him unaware.
Wendt tells Eugene Weekly that the board will issue a statement to the public on Dec. 1. He says one thing the board was concerned about was sustaining growth while building the organization’s capacity. “One thing that we decided to do was that we should have an executive director who has those skills,” he says.
Wendt says that by building capacity, he means establishing operational systems, such as human resources and payroll, that are unified. He says that Richardson served well in the position of executive director, but the board wants to hire someone with experience in capacity building.
“Eric’s fucking amazing,” Wendt says. “We hope that he stays involved in the unit even though he won’t be directing it.”
Wendt was named the registered agent for the group in an Oct. 21 filing with the Oregon Secretary of State. A Sept. 26, 2020, amended annual report filing had Richardson as the registered agent.
The Eugene Springfield NAACP’s website lists four executive board members: President Miles Pendleton, Vice President Wendt, Secretary Laura Vinson and Treasurer Rhiauna Vinson (the latter two are mother and daughter).
During Richardson’s years of work at the Eugene Springfield NAACP chapter, he served as president and then was appointed executive director in 2019. He says his greatest work is around the Mims family in general, cementing the narrative of the African American community and the place of the Mims House in local history. He adds that having the Eugene Springfield NAACP chapter move to the Mims House and erecting a monument for the family are among his accomplishments.
In 2020, during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement throughout the U.S., EW readers voted Richardson as the “Best Civil Rights Leader.”
Richardson says that as a person who was involved with the local chapter’s creation of the executive director position, he has to be in support of a strong board’s right to dismiss its leader. “At the same time, I’m disappointed that it was abrupt,” he adds.
Wendt says it was a matter of what the board and local chapter needed to focus on, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
Wendt says when the executive director position was first created in 2019, no one applied for it, so Richardson had stepped in to serve on an interim basis. But the board made the hire knowing Richardson didn’t have all of the skills necessary for the job, he says.
“It’s just that ultimately, with all of the stuff that’s happened over the past couple of years and the growth of the unit, we felt that we needed to make a change and get a little bit cleaner on our operations,” Wendt says.
Richardson says he’s happy to serve the community and looks forward to being in Eugene as a citizen. “I hope the community can come together and get past the morass we’re in. There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of division, a lot of politics that are causing people grief,” he says.
Moving forward, Richardson says he hopes the community can build on what was established at the local NAACP chapter. He says he’s seen some members of the chapter upset on Facebook. On Nov. 30, one Facebook post by Niyah Ross questioned the decision, saying it was made by a largely white board.
Richardson says he appreciates the community’s concerns. But that the NAACP’s success “doesn’t rely on me being there.” He adds that success is possible if members are involved with the organization’s work. “It’s about the work of the NAACP and the U.S. being a more holistic and collective unit.”
Richardson says, “I’m just trying to process things and figure out how to move forward and how to be of assistance to all of the community partners that I care about and who have been working with us over the years.”