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Dr. Benjamin Franklin Chavis, Jr. is an African American civil rights leader born on January 22, 1948 in Oxford, North Carolina. In his youth, Dr. Chavis was an assistant to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who inspired him to work in the civil rights movement.
At the age of 24, Dr. Chavis rose to international prominence as the leader of the Wilmington Ten. After the conviction of the entire group that would be overturned on appeal, Dr. Chavis received a sentence of 34 years in prison. Along with the other members of the Wilmington Ten, Dr. Chavis walked to his freedom in 1980 after the federal appeals court overturned the convictions and cited "prosecutorial misconduct." Upon his release from prison, Dr. Chavis returned to the field of civil rights, and he became a Vice President of the National Council of Churches.
The board of the NAACP elected Dr. Chavis as the Executive Director of America's oldest civil rights organization. Dr. Chavis later served as the National Director of the Million Man March, and the Founder and CEO of the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS). Since 2001, Dr. Chavis has been CEO and Co-Chairman of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, in New York City which he co-founded with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons. In 2009, Dr. Chavis joined with Ezell Brown and established Education Online Services Corporation headquartered in Coral Springs, Florida. In 2011, Dr. Chavis collaborated with multi-platinum music producer and author Sahpreem A. King on "Surviving the Game: How to Succeed in the Music Business" where Dr. Chavis is credited as author of the foreword and technical advisor.
On June 24, 2014, Mr. Chavis became the interim president and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, an African-American organization which focuses on supporting and advocating for publishers of the nation's more than 200 black newspapers.
Benjamin Franklin Chavis, Jr. was born and grew up in Oxford, North Carolina. As a twelve-year-old, Chavis effectively desegregated his hometown's whites-only public library, becoming the first African American to be issued a library card in the town's history. Chavis graduated from Mary Potter High School in 1965 and entered St. Augustine College in Raleigh as a freshman. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (1969).
After working in the civil rights movement and serving time in North Carolina's prison system as a the leader of the Wilmington Ten, Chavis received his Master of Divinity (magna cum laude) from Duke University (1980) and a Doctor of Ministry from Howard University (1981). Chavis was admitted into the PhD program in Systematic Theology as a graduate student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and completed all of the academic course requirements.
In 1965, while a college freshman, Chavis became a statewide youth coordinator in North Carolina for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He also joined CORE, SNCC and AFSCME.
In 1968, Chavis also worked for the presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. After his graduation from UNCC in 1969, Chavis returned to Oxford and taught at the Mary Potter High School, still all black even though the courts ordered school desegregation. In 1970 following the murder of 23-year-old Henry Marrow and the acquittal by an all-white jury of the two men who killed him, Chavis organized a protest march from Oxford to North Carolina's State Capitol Building in Raleigh. Following the Oxford to Raleigh march, Chavis organized a black boycott of white businesses in Oxford that lasted for 18 months until the town agreed to integrate its public facilities, including schools.
Chavis was appointed Field Officer in the United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice in 1968. (The commission had been established in 1963 to coordinate justice strategies, community organization, and the like.)
In 1969, he was appointed Southern Regional Program Director of the 1.7 million member United Church of Christ Commission for Racial Justice (UCC-CRJ). In 1985, he was named the Executive Director and CEO of the UCC-CRJ.
Chavis received his ordination in the United Church of Christ in 1980.
In 1971 the Commission for Racial Justice assigned Field Officer Chavis to Wilmington, North Carolina to help desegregate the public school system. Since the city abruptly closed the black high school, laid off its principal and most of its teachers, and distributed the students to other schools, there had been conflicts with white students. The administration did not hear their grievances, and the students organized a boycott to protest for their civil rights.
Chavis and nine others were arrested in February 1972 charged with conspiracy and arson. Following a controversial trial, the entire group were convicted in 1972. The oldest man at age 24, Chavis drew the longest sentence, 34 years. The ten were incarcerated while supporters pursued appeals. The case of the Wilmington Ten received massive international condemnation as a political prosecution. In December 1980, the Federal Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new trial and overturned the original conviction because of "prosecutorial misconduct."
In 1978 Amnesty International described Benjamin Chavis and eight others of the Wilmington Ten still in prison as “American political prisoners” under the definition of the Universal Rights of Man and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They were prisoners of conscience. From this experience Benjamin Chavis wrote two books: An American Political Prisoner Appeals for Human Rights (while still in prison) and Psalms from Prison. In 1978, Chavis was named as one of the first winners of the Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award.
On December 31, 2012, Chavis and the surviving members of the Wilmington Ten were granted Pardons of Innocence by North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue. The New York Times editorialized for the pardons of innocence for the Wilmington 10 as the case had become an international cause celebre as a case of virulent racist political prosecution.
Because of Dr. Chavis' scientific background, in 1981, he coined the term environmental racism: “Racial discrimination in the deliberated targeting of ethnic and minority communities for exposure to toxic and hazardous waste sites and facilities, coupled with the systematic exclusion of minorities in environmental policy making, enforcement, and remediation.” To prove the validity of his definition, Chavis in 1986 conducted and published the landmark national study: Toxic Waste and Race in the United States of America, that statistically revealed the direct correlation between race and the location of toxic waste throughout the United States. Chavis is considered by many environmental grassroots activists to be the “father of the post-modern environmental justice movement” that has steadily grown throughout the nation and world since the early 1980s.
In 1988, Dr. Chavis was elected Vice President of the National Council of Churches. Dr. Chavis also served as chairman of its Prophetic Justice unit as a Minister of the United Church of Christ. In 2013, Dr. Chavis began writing weekly columns for the National Newspaper Association. His columns both insightful and educational, have been published in the countries leading minority newspapers, such as The AFRO.
In 1993, Dr. Chavis became the youngest Executive Director and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Dr. Chavis is a lifetime member of the NAACP, and first joined at the age of twelve as a youth leader of the Granville County, North Carolina Chapter.
Chavis traveled to a housing project to “get to the heart of the issue,” stating that in economically deprived areas, youth often go from childhood to adulthood with no adolescence because of the economic demands. On August 28, 1993, NAACP Chairman William Gibson, Executive Director Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., Coretta Scott King, William Fauntroy, and AFL-CIO’s Lane Kirkland joined together to organize the 30th Anniversary March on Washington for Economic Democracy. In 1993, President Clinton named Dr. Chavis to the twenty-five-member President’s Council on Sustainable Development to help develop U.S. policies that would encourage economic growth, job creation, and environmental protection.
The NAACP in 1993 received a $2 million commitment from the estate of the late Reginald F. Lewis to establish the NAACP Reginald F. Lewis Memorial Endowment.
Dr. Chavis spoke on the PBS series Earthkeeping. He said that “environmental racism” was a life-and-death issue and noted the work of the NAACP to end it. Dr. Chavis said that often people of color were excluded from decisions on public policy. The NAACP organized Branches to speak out on the issue and advocated for reform of the Superfund legislation.
In 1994, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. set the NAACP’s focus on economic empowerment to ensure a strong economic infrastructure for the African-American and other communities of color. The NAACP created a Telecommunications Task Force of Board members and industry leaders to ensure that African Americans took part in the ownership, management, and total employment package of President Clinton’s proposed “National Information Superhighway.”
The NAACP conducted a voter education teleconference in seventeen cities across the U.S. to prepare South African citizens residing in the U.S. and NAACP volunteers for participation in the special South African elections on April 26.
Through the NAACP Community Development Resource Centers (CDRC), the Association established the Youth Entrepreneurial Institute to sharpen business acumen and launch enterprises for students ages fourteen to eighteen. In May 1994, Chavis led the NAACP and other organizations in sponsoring a youth summit to seek solutions to the drugs and violence in their communities. 
In 1994, Chavis was fired after signing an out-of-court settlement committing the NAACP to pay a former female employee to stop a potential employment discrimination lawsuit against the NAACP. Chavis in his position as CEO signed the settlement. Later that year, Chavis retired from his post as Executive Director of the NAACP.
In 1994, Dr. Chavis convened summit conferences of civil rights leaders in Baltimore in August and in Chicago in December. In June 1995, they founded the National African American Leadership Summit (NAALS). A constitution and by-laws were adopted that month. Dr. Chavis served as Executive Director and CEO of NAALS from 1995 to 1997. During his tenure, Dr. Chavis directed the organization, planning and implementation of the Million Man March in Washington, DC.
In 1995, NAALS appointed Dr. Chavis to serve as the National Director of the Million Man March Organizing Committee that conceived, designed, arranged and promoted the Million Man March. Dr. Chavis drew upon years of experience as an advocate for African-American equality to help this political march reach its goals of increased political activity and awareness of issues by African Americans.
Chavis joined the Nation of Islam in 1997 and temporarily adopted the religious surname Muhammad. Dr. Chavis received the appointment to serve as East Coast Regional Minister of the Nation of Islam and Minister of the historic Mosque Number Seven in Harlem, New York where Malcolm X had served. While seromg the Nation of Islam, Chavis worked to establish better relations between Christians, Jews and Muslims.
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The journey into the Hip-Hop culture actually had its roots for Chavis dating back to 1969 when he was the proprietor and regular “DJ” and “MC” for The Soul Kitchen Disco in his hometown of Oxford, North Carolina. In the 1970s, Chavis saw the connection between the urban culture of underground music and the post-civil rights era. During the 1980s, Chavis witnessed the growing popularity of hip-hop with disfranchised youth entrapped into urban poverty.
While serving as a mentor to Sister Souljah, Kevin Powell, Little Rob, Ras Baraka and other hip-hop activists, Chavis met Russell Simmons and Lyor Cohen in 1986 at Def Jam Records. As head of the NAACP in 1993, he worked with Run DMC to mobilize youth voters. Hip-hop's premier video director, Hype Williams, cast Chavis in the pivotal role as the “Rev. Saviour” in the 1998 hip-hop classic movie Belly, which starred superstar hip-hop artists Nas, Method Man and DMX.
Chavis performed the Intro and Outro to Jim Jones and the Diplomats 2004 hip-hop album, “On My Way to Church.” In 2005, Dr. Chavis was the spoken word artist feature in Cassidy's latest platinum selling album ”I'm A Hustler.” When Dr. Chavis helped organize both the Million Man March (1995) and Million Family March (2000), Russell Simmons worked with him to mobilize hip-hop leaders to support the marches. Ultimately, the two men realized they had a similar vision for this generation of hip-hop youth, and to that end, they created the first national "Hip-Hop Summit" in New York City, from which grew the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN).
One-and-a-half years later, HSAN is the largest and broadest national coalition of hip-hop artists, recording industry executives, youth activists and civil rights leaders. With the support of the major hip-hop labels, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and others, the HSAN has sponsored successful "Hip-Hop Summits" in New York, New York, Kansas City, Missouri, Oakland, California, Los Angeles, California, Washington, DC, Miami, Florida, Seattle, Washington, and Dallas, Texas.
Meetings with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), vocal stands before the U.S. Congress on the unconstitutionality of censoring rap lyrics, the development of literacy programs, Youth Councils, voter registration drives in conjunction with Rap The Vote, the voice for the poor, and the fight for children's public education, fill Dr. Chavis' days (and nights).
In 2002, Dr. Chavis and the HSAN joined the United Federation of Teachers and the New York Alliance for Quality Education (AQE) to organize the largest public demonstration since New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office.  The Washington Post reported, “Hip-hop's brightest stars, from P. Diddy to Jay-Z to Alicia Keys, lent a little star power today to a demonstration by roughly 100,000 students, teachers and rap fans who crammed eight blocks outside City Hall to protest drastic school budget cuts proposed by the new mayor.”
Dr. Chavis was a spokesperson for TI's Respect My Vote campaign, and introduced TI's performance at the 2008 FAMU Homecoming Concert in Tallahassee Florida that was hosted by FAMU and Blazin 102.3.
In 2007 Chavis headed H3 Enterprises and the HipHopSodaShop. In 2009, H3 Enterprises sued Chavis for mismanagement, a settlement was found in this case after the countersuit of Chavis.
Dr. Chavis is married to Martha Rivera Chavis and the father of eight children, three of whom are by his first wife the late Jackie Bullock Chavis. Dr. Chavis is a member of Phi Beta Sigma fraternity. Dr. Chavis has told an interviewer he reads books on chemistry, for pleasure.
Dr. Chavis has been mistakenly listed as being the voice during the chorus on "Ringing Bells", a track from Masta Killa's album Made In Brooklyn. It is actually Minister Louis Farrakhan's voice used on the track.
Dr. Chavis is featured as the protagonist in the critically acclaimed autobiographical work by Tim Tyson, Blood Done Sign My Name and the critically acclaimed film where the part of the young Benjamin Chavis is played by Nate Parker.
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