Reverend James Woodall

Generation Next: Reverend James Woodall

From being elected the youngest-ever State President in the century-long history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 2019 to organizing students on the Georgia Southern campus, 28-year-old Reverend James Woodall advocates for racial justice with a profound sense of responsibility to his community. Even with the current challenges, his dedication does not waver and offers a source of strength for Georgians struggling with eviction, unemployment, inadequate healthcare, and legal discrimination, consequences of a racist system that has led to the needless deaths of innumerable Black people. He is determined to reform Georgia's legislation from the ground up.

As one of his top priorities during his time at the NAACP, Woodall, who resigned from his position last summer, and his team closely analyzed the Official Code of Georgia, originally written by a Confederate lawyer, and specifically §17-4-60, which permits citizen's arrest. For centuries, this statute offered a loophole to defend the lynchings of thousands of Black Georgians, including Ahmaud Arbery, who was fatally shot in 2020 while jogging. Last spring, Woodall helped shepherd a bill to ban citizen's arrest into law, a momentous win. Still, there was little time for celebration, as the same legislature had also passed a package of devastating new election laws just days earlier, heavily infringing on the rights of Black Georgians. Woodall, who is now a public policy associate at the Southern Center for Human Rights, emphasizes that the fight is just beginning. "We won't stop there," he says. "We will continue to work on Georgia statutes that have been instituted to enact racist policies with acute precision and continue to address laws that disproportionately impact our community."

Woodall's personal approach to activism is deeply informed by his background as a Baptist minister. "Before becoming a minister, I didn't know that issues of legislation were reflected in Scripture," he admits. "Now I find things like Isaiah 10:1, where it says, 'Woe to those who write unjust laws.' Being able to declare that boldly in the public square, before white people who claim to be believers of the Gospel, empowers my advocacy just a tad bit more." During 2020's Black Lives Matter protests, chants of George Floyd's final words, "I can't breathe," became a source of righteous indignation for Woodall: "As God says in Psalms, 'Let everything that has breath praise the Lord,'" but Floyd's breath was stolen in a deadly act of police brutality.

Through grief and turmoil, Woodall remains "a prisoner of hope" in combating white supremacy. "I recognize that I'm not here to save the world, but rather give the world a choice," he says. "My offering is one that simply uplifts all of humanity instead of destroying it." While the NAACP's influence has shifted through the decades, it's remained integral to the movement by continuing to empower young activists with valuable insight into modern-day challenges, as evinced by the election of Woodall, whose passion and energy inspire those around him, young and old. Now, at another storied organization working for racial equity in the Deep South, he'll continue to uphold that legacy through his commitment to ending the suffering of Black America.

Read this story and many more in print by ordering our inaugural issue here. See the full Generation Next series here.

As a nonprofit arts and culture publication dedicated to educating, inspiring, and uplifting creatives, Cero Magazine depends on your donations to create stories like these. Please support our work here.