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In May 1979, the National Association of Black Narcotic Agents (NABNA) was officially incorporated as a Non-profit, 501 C (3) Organization in Atlanta, Georgia. The Organization’s charter and bylaws were signed and registered by eight (8) Special Agents (SA) of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) of African American decent. Those Black Special Agents were: Charlie Brown, Jr., Calvin C. Campbell, Gerald D. Chapman, Morris H. Davis, Ellis L. Dean, Gene H. Johnson, Albert L. Parrish, Jr., and James H. Williams.

Events leading to the establishment /organization of NABNA

In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the Department of Justice, Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs (BNDD) conducted a massive recruitment program of Black Special Agents from across the United States.  Between the years of 1968 and 1972, there were more Blacks recruited for Special Agents positions during that period than had been done any time in agency history. Mr. Arthur Lewis, Mr. Clarence Cook and Mr. Kenneth Rhodes were probably responsible for recruiting more than 90% of the Blacks who came on the job during that period of time. 

In order for this time period to be relevant, it is important for one to know the political and social climate of our country. Black American in the United States had been in an active and ongoing struggle for equal rights for all citizens, even the right to vote since the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.

In 1965, the Civil Rights Act was signed and became the law of the land. However, this set off another level of mistreatment, anger, tension among the races and sometimes violence. Most notable, 1968 history logged the assassinations of Robert F Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. Desegregation of schools, universities, public establishments and EEOC Title VII legislation became law. There were many demonstrations against the new enacted laws which produced an atmosphere of anger, resentment, acts of violence against Blacks and their institutions, threats against the lives of Black Clergy as leaders of the civil rights movement as well as against Whites and other ethnic races of people identified as helping garner equal rights for all people.

The events that had taken place in the earlier years of the 1950’s and 60’s were still fresh and although we had new laws, they were hard for people to accept and comply.  This was still fresh and anger and division among the races were running high, etc. Those tensions were felt by Blacks every day, on their jobs, private sector as well as in the government. Civil Service jobs and employees who worked or hired on those jobs were not insulated or protected from this atmosphere. In some cases, law enforcement agencies on the local, state and federal levels were the biggest violators of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Most notable during this era our country was heavily engaged in a ‘war on drugs’. The smuggling, manufacturing and distribution of illegal and illicit drugs were ramped in our cities, towns and communities destroying lives like a Tsunami that had been unleashed by a major earthquake. Drugs use and abuse had penetrated every fabric of our society causing an increase in violent crime and increase in deaths of citizens who were caught up in and or engaged in its illegal activity. The majority of our law enforcement communities were basically populated with White males and very few departments hired any ethnic group of minorities. In many police departments across the south enacted laws that prohibited the hiring of Blacks. Police departments who did hire Black officers were rare and if they did, law enforcement authority and duties were limited and or relegated to Black communities and sometimes only in special circumstances. 

The Event that Brought these 8 DEA Special Agents Together

The above named Special Agents worked in different Regional and Field Offices of the Drug Enforcement during that time but had a few things in common; all having attended a Historical Black College or University of higher learning, loved college football, especially the historical rivalries of the teams and the excellent competition during half-time of the Battle of the Marching Bands. The SAs mentioned above attended one or two of the annual classics annually and consistently every year for four or five years prior to 1978. During these annual football classic games, the SA always found time to discuss issues and concerns we had in our respective offices and talked about the current climate we each faced regarding work conditions, assignments, undervalued and the overall tone of racial injustices we observed or were actual targets in the offices we were assigned at the time.  We often talked about what can do to make things better for ourselves.  We also discussed issues we learned from other Black agents in other locations who did not attend these games. While learned the treatment of Black agents were not just unique to the issues each of us faced in our respective offices and division but across the DEA Offices across the nation.  I must admit, not every Black agent at the time said they were having issues but more than 80% of the agents reported some issue with either promotion, assignments and training opportunities.  An interesting note here is that we later learned that many of those Black agents who didn’t originally admit or report they were having issues later confirmed they were indeed having problems. The most common reason given was embarrassment, afraid of retaliation and or they didn’t know who they were talking to and therefore was afraid to speak out. 

Over the four to five years prior to 1978, we made a concerted effort to reach out to Black agents across the country to get information from their perspective and experiences they were seeing regarding the treatment of Black agents in their offices and divisions.  We invited other Black agents to join us at the games we scheduled to involve them in the discussions; many of them didn’t really believe we could be successful in our endeavor.  

During the time between late 1976 and 1977 there had been wide spread knowledge of issues raised in different DEA Regions and DEA Field Offices of the discrimination practices and injustice treatment of Black Special Agents within DEA.  There were discrimination issues regarding recruitment, hiring, assignments, selection for training opportunities, discrimination in promotional opportunities, not being competitive and non-selection to senior status and supervisory positions. There were serious issues brought to light and open knowledge of discrimination practices throughout the agency when it came to discipline and more severe and notable punishment dealt out against Black agents vs. White agents for similar infractions. Black special agents begin to report increased negative activity and hostility being directed toward them from other employees in their offices including hostility by non-agent (1811) personnel.  Even Black Special Agents who reported in the beginning they didn’t have any issues or problems were beginning to feel the pressure and unwarranted negative treatment after about mid-year 1977 when the Segar vs Bell “Class Action” Law Suit was filed in 1977. We also detected from conversations of some of the Black agents that they were confused, didn’t want to get involved or be associated with starting an organization for fear of losing their jobs, harsher treatment if it were known they were participating, and/or retaliation. As hard as we tried to communicate with Black agents, we learned from them the talk going around in the different DEA offices were the Black agents were starting trouble especially when the word circulated throughout the agency of the “Class Action” law suit that was disclosed. In a lot of locations around the agency, there were offices that no Black agents and in most locations where there were Black agents, there may have been one or perhaps two in Divisional Offices.  In larger Regional Offices where there were fairly populated larger cities included, you may find one Black agent assigned to that District office. The atmosphere for a Black agent during that time was very harsh in most cases where the Black agent admitted he was experiencing some sort of discrimination. The founding members, from their point of view, observed a declining interest on the part of DEA to recruit, interview, hire, and train and retain African American candidates for the Special Agent Position.     

Several who participated one or two times were transferred or could not participate regularly to contribute in a way to be named or included as a co-founder.    We shared with them what brought us together and that we are forming a network of communications available to other agents if they thought they needed someone to reach out to even if it were just to talk to and get an opinion or whatever help they could to remedy their situation. We were aiming to help those who felt they were alone, didn’t know what to do or say in their situation to mitigate the mistreatment, negative feeling. We could hopefully offer someone they can reach out to when they felt overwhelmed or just to get some advice how they may be able to get help for a positive resolution.   In 1978, after having knowledge and information for over the four years, the founders believed we needed to do something not only for ourselves but something that could benefit all Black agents on the job. We decided we needed a formal way of organizing and a plan for addressing the issues so many of us were facing. And at the same time we needed to develop strategies to address and mitigate other racial and general issues known throughout the agency regarding Black Special Agents.  We needed a forum whereby Black agents can come together, discuss the issues, develop strategies to address the negative working conditions, how to address training, promotions and other negative conditions/feeling of non-Black colleagues on the job.

During the early spring of 1977, the committee members met with attorneys from the law firm Parks, Jackson & Howell to discuss the possibility of establishing a nonprofit professional organization to address the issues Black Special Agents were facing on the job.  In the fall of 1977, we, each committee (founding) member mentioned above dedicated ourselves, devised a time-line divided up assignments, corroborated and communicated with each other from our individual offices location, exchanged ideas, corrected  and approved a working document to present to a law firm to fine tune, file with the state Article of Incorporation of the organization. 

It was in 1978 that we decided to vote on a name and move forward to incorporate NABNA.  Draft documents were passed between offices to each member for review and comment or make corrections and or additions.  Parrish solicited the help of two Miami Regional Office Clerk Typists (Office / Group Assistants), Ms. Ruthie Jones and Ms. Myrtle Sherwood who assisted / helped in the organizing and typing the final documents.  This process took approximately 7 months to bring to completion before presenting to a law firm. Chapman had a contact in the law offices of Parks, Jackson and Howell in Atlanta, Georgia.  Attorney George L. Howell, Partner in Parks, Jackson and Howell, reviewed and filed The Articles of Incorporation for the non-profit organization of the National Association of Black Narcotics Agents, Inc. (NABNA) in the State of Georgia, approved and signed by the Secretary of State on May 2, 1979.  

What Next Steps of Challenges, Where Do We Meet?

When NABNA was finally established in May 1979, the founding members knew we have a huge task of importance in accordance to overcome.  We had already experienced some resistance with bringing in members due to several reasons, the chatter of non-Black agents in the DEA and the majority of the supervision and management among the agent rank were White. Therefore, there was some hesitation among the Black agents to get involved, join the organization and felt intimidated. Reason being that the Segar lawsuit was well known and was a ‘hot topic’ of contention and resistance as displayed out in some of the DEA office where Black agents observed and witness the brunt of mistreatment. The Founding Members also knew that if people joined and supported NABNA, each would be responsible for any cost associated with travel and they knew that attending any meeting not sponsored or sanctioned by the DEA, would have to be on their own time.  The most important issue the member had was whether or not their participation in NABNA would be considered in violation of their employee standards of conduct and thereby could result in discipline by the agency as deterrence from joining or participation. With this in mind, Chapman’s responsibility in his role and title as Executive Director of NABNA at the time, prepared a communication to DEA Headquarters to Personnel office, EEO Office and copies to the Administrator announcing the establishment of NABNA as a professional organization, outlining its purpose, goals and objectives. It was made known that NABNA was not in any way a subversive or adversary organization of the DEA.  It was explained the goal was to work in conjunction with DEA management in its efforts in recruiting minorities, mentoring, being a positive force for the community, provide training, assist whenever and wherever possible in policy decisions affecting Black agents on career matters. This move was to help quell the tensions, negative reactions by White counterparts, and to keep DEA management informed as we didn’t have anything to hide and let our intentions be heard from NABNA and not from other people who had no knowledge of what or why we saw the need to form a professional organization like other professions and was provided examples of other professional organizations. Within a week after DEA received Chapman’s communication, we received a shot letter back that in effect advise us that we did not have permission to form an organization and that the only Black organization that DEA recognized was the Black Affairs Committee and Blacks in Government (BIG). In effect, the response letter gave the tone that it was illegal and we had better shut it down.  The reply was made known to the general population of Black agents but, the founders decided that we had done nothing wrong and it appeared we were not going to get DEA’s help or cooperation, at least not then and perhaps never. 

Because we knew we were facing these obstacles, planning continued and we had about a year before our first general meeting and hoped that we could generate enough interest to have a relative good showing. We always knew and never expected every Black agent to be present at a “General Organization Meeting”. NABNA membership was not formed to be a DEA Black Agent “Membership Only” organization.  It was created to include all employees of DEA in whatever job title or role they we employed as well as state and local law enforcement personnel who worked in the field or had interests in supported narcotic enforcement and NABNA’s goals and objectives. The ‘when’ to hold the General Meeting was decided by the Constitution Bylaws of NABNA.  Where to hold the meeting was more challenging due to the fact that anyone who wanted to attend would have to be responsible for their own transportation and lodging expenses. The Founding Members decided on Dallas, Texas for its first General Meeting site. Dallas was picked after much research of how to reduce the expenses a participant would have to pay when we took in factors of the greatest distance where any one group would have to travel from to the destination city. We obtained fare pricing from Eastern and Delta Airlines since we had connections with the corporate offices of Delta in Atlanta, GA and Eastern in Miami, FL at that time. Their travel office also helped in hotel location and discount pricing. 

Honestly speaking, we didn’t receive a lot of interest or receive many paid members along the way. It was quite out there and the main reason we learned was fear of reprisal or the unknown of what would happen to the participants who attended a meeting they knew was not sanctioned by DEA and they knew this upfront. About six (6) weeks prior to the scheduled first “General Meeting” of NABNA, the flood gates opened and we begin to receive word that participants were booking rooms at the hotel. Many participants advised the Treasurer they would join and pay their dues upon arrival. What looked like a very low turnout or interest in the beginning, we had state and local officers and many DEA employees, agents, analyst and secretaries beyond our initial expectation / hopes, attended the first NABNA Training Conference held in Dallas, Texas. Many brought their families. Some drove while others flew, and many made a vacation and stayed in the area several days after the Training Conference. It was a huge success by all standards. The Founding Members had their work cut out and now NABNA was off to a good start. All Founding Members each, provided an overview and their perspective of why NABNA was created, the need for an organization, the importance of networking and for comraderies, building relationships and assisting others.  Many others who did not or were not able to attend the General Meeting learned about the success of the conference and decided to join NABNA during the year. At the first conference meeting, several attending groups from three or four states and having access to more personnel in their respective Divisions proposed to host the next year’s conference site. The different groups made a presentation before the body in an attempt to persuade a vote for their choice.  The body voted and confirmed the selection site of the next two General Meeting and Training Conference sites. At this General Meeting and Training Conference, the first set of Official NABNA Officers were nominate and voted in by the body attending the conference.       

NABNA 43rdLeadership & Training Conference

The 43rd Annual Leadership Conference of the National Association of Black Narcotic Agents.