Together We Move Podcast: A Conversation with Tori O'Neal of NAACP

A man with headphones runs alone on a boardwalk

“Until all of us are free, none of us are free.” - Tori O’Neal

ASHLEY ARNOLD (HOST): This is episode two of a four-part podcast series that coincides with the One Million Miles for Justice virtual event. We invite you to register and listen as you run, walk or bike 25 miles or more between June 15 and July 15, 2020. You can register for the event at any time before it ends on July 15. So, if you’re listening when this episode comes out, it’s late June and it’s not too late! You can join wherever you are, and it’s an excellent way to support the cause for racial justice and work on your own fitness goals at the same time. The cost to sign up is $25 and the net profits go to support the NAACP.

And to help you learn a little bit more about what the NAACP does, this week’s episode is an interview between Kate Schwartz and Tori O’Neal, Chief of External Affairs at the NAACP. O’Neal shares more about how your dollars contribute to the fight for equality, as well as a few other ways you can get involved.

KATE SCHWARTZ (HOST): Thank you so much for speaking with us today, Tori.

TORI O’NEAL: Sure, so happy to be with you today. My name is Tori O'neal. I’m the chief of external affairs at the NAACP. I am a part of the leadership council under President Derrick Johnson. I have the honor of working with some amazing colleagues and warriors for justice via our civic engagement, communications and development fundraising membership team.

SCHWARTZ: We interviewed Raynard Lawler and Vergil Chames last week about the One Million Miles for Justice event. They told us that as they were planning the event and what organization they wanted to benefit that they settled on NAACP because of how active your organization is and because of the impact they believe you all will have.

O’NEAL: When Vergil and Raynard, when they first called and wanted to talk with us about having the proceeds of their event come to the NAACP, we were honored and we also thought this is so amazing. What they’re doing through the One Million Miles for Justice. Listing up primarily Black communities but all communities that can participate in this event that has to do with physical activity and health, it feeds right into a campaign that we had launched right before they called us. It’s #wearedonedying. We created that hashtag in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Little did we know when we launched that campaign, that hashtag, that it was going to address two pandemics. The pandemic of COVID-19 and the pandemic of racism. Because right at the time when we launched that campaign we heard about the Arbery murder in Georgia. And it became a rallying cry at that moment. So, when Raynard and Vergil approached us about this event having to do with health and wellness and power in Black communities we saw a natural fit, a natural affinity.

SCHWARTZ: So, the net profits for the event will go to your organization. Can you tell us more about your organization and how you advance the fight for racial justice?

So, NAACP Empowerment programs is the name of our 501-C3 organization. It’s a sister organization to the NAACP. And it’s where our donations are tax-deductible. The focus of our work, particularly during these times, is in civic engagement, criminal justice, health equity and economic opportunity. But we also do work in education, and environmental and climate justice, as well.

So, as a non-partisan organization we fight on ensuring that democracy works for all in this country and not just for some. So, our civic engagement program is the way that we do that. We’re actually launching our formal civic engagement program today, June 22, and it focuses on voter registration, voter mobilization, turnout and protecting voting rights. And the last part, protecting voting rights, is done in concert with our office of general council and our branches in the field. So we’re going to be putting every single dime to very very good use.

SCHWARTZ: How can individual donations help, as opposed to larger donations? And can they help?

O’NEAL: So, I love this question. It speaks to the heart of what the NAACP is all about. The answer is, yes, individual donations, no matter how small or how large help. The NAACP is a 111-year-old civil rights organization. We have over 2,200 units throughout the country in 47 of the 50 states and we boast over 2.5 million members who are volunteers in those units and state conferences. We are a little “d” democracy association and we believe passionately in the amplification of the voices on the ground. In that way, no amount is too small. Every single dollar counts, as does every single voice.

SCHWARTZ: So, historically speaking, why is NAACP important?

O’NEAL: Here’s what I would say, while I could list up the many accomplishments of the NAACP over the past 111 years. I’d really rather focus on the here and now. Last week the NAACP won our Supreme Court Case which was NAACP v Trump. The case focused on DACA which stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival. We know the value of affirmative litigation to ensure our nation lives up to its ideals. And while people would probably be surprised to learn that the NAACP actually advanced litigation that focused on immigration, what we know is that until all of us are free, none of us are free. And we saw the DACA litigation of which there are Dreamers who are of the African Diaspora. They are a part of that. We saw that as our calling to stand up in that moment and to defend the rights of all and not just some. We are so thrilled that our litigation in cooperation with all of the organizing and the blood sweat and tears of folks on the ground, the organizers on the ground in communities across the country that it all came together for victory in this case.

And there was real conversation inside the association. And it came to agreement that yes, we recognize discrimination when we see it. We recognize the need to lean in and the need to fight for the rights of everyone. This was the case where, after conversation it became a bit of a no-brainer that if we had the ability to bring it forward that we should.

SCHWARTZ: Are there any other ways you would recommend that individuals can support the work of NAACP? And if so, what are the ways they can get involved?

O’NEAL: One, membership in NAACP is a very good thing. To be plugged into the nexus of this org and the work we’re doing. is where people can go and sign up to be members of this organization.

The other is that this week we are formally launching our civic engagement program and we are actively looking for volunteers to help us with the virtual boots on the ground to register and mobilize and turn out voters in this very consequential election year. Folks can go to and actually sign up to volunteer and help the NAACP as we work to vote like our lives depend on it. Because they do.

I would really just like to give a big shout out and a thank you to Fleet Feet for partnering with One Million Miles for Justice on this event. This feels like a wonderful, very organic coming together. Which is quite frankly representative of what we’re seeing in the solidarity of coming together on the cities and streets across the country. This is an inflection point. It is a time to come together and have those conversations. Those uncomfortable, very necessary conversations across kitchen tables, on Zoom calls, day in and day out around what is needed in this moment in our country. Diversity and inclusion is wonderful but we need to be having looped cause systemic conversation. And, the fact that we are actually saying the ‘R’ word, that we’re actually saying and naming racism as something that needs to be eradicated in this country is huge. So, to Vergil and Raynard, for launching this One Million Miles for Justice with their club in Alabama and all of the volunteers, for everyone who was already signed up, for Fleet Feet for supporting this organization, as they are trying to do this amazing, amazing event, I just say thank you on behalf of the NAACP, our 2200 chapters and units across this country and our over 250 million volunteers and members, just thank you. We truly appreciate the support.

SCHWARTZ: Well, Tori, thank you so much for your time today, and for sharing this information with us and for all of the wonderful work you all are doing. We’re really excited to be able to help even just a little bit.

O’NEAL: You’re very welcome, and let’s just keep it going. Let’s keep the conversation going and let’s keep those million miles for justice happening. Looking forward to the end of this event when we are all celebrating the journey.

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