Benjamin Hooks

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Dr. Benjamin Lawson Hooks, who died on April 15 at age 85, was many things: a pioneering attorney, a groundbreaking judge, a minister, a tireless advocate for equality and justice and a civil rights icon. Most important, Dr. Hooks was a mentor and a friend. When I was elected to the NAACP board of directors in 1985 as a youth member, Dr. Hooks was there to welcome me with open arms. It was under his tutelage that I--and the NAACP--reached new heights of advocacy.

He overcame much adversity in his life and broke down barriers in ways no one thought possible. He was the first black judge in Tennessee since Reconstruction. He was the first African American appointed to the Federal Communications Commission, where he worked to enhance opportunities for minority ownership of television and radio stations and demanded improved images of African Americans in the mass media. And, of course, he became the official voice of African Americans as the executive director of the nation's oldest and largest civil rights organization. Dr. Hooks inspired a new generation of civil rights leaders, reinvigorated the NAACP and taught me--and everyone else he came into contact with--to stand up for what we believe in, even in the face of extreme adversity.

At the NAACP Centennial Convention in 2009, Dr. Hooks left us with his immortal words, words that all Americans should live by: "Let's fight on until justice runs down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream. Let's fight on until there is no downsizing, until there is no glass ceiling. Fight on until justice, righteousness, hope, equality and opportunity is the birthright of all Americans."

Brock is chairman of the NAACP board of directors