Black History Month Profile: Nimrod Chapel, Jr.

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JEFFERSON CITY – The leader of Missouri's NAACP says the current political climate is problematic.

"If I tell you that there’s a lot of room for improvement, that might be a good place to start," Nimrod Chapel, Jr., said.

He is keeping an eye on several legislative initiatives, from payday loans to healthcare to changes that would affect how judges are chosen. 

Chapel has a lot to keep track of as the president of both the Missouri NAACP and Jefferson City NAACP. It's his job to follow issues and figure out way to inform the public about them. He's also responsible for providing help to local NAACP branches that want to get started or expand.

In addition to his volunteer work with the NAACP, Chapel practices law.

"I’m a trial lawyer, an advocate for the people," he said. "I spend a lot of time working on behalf of individuals throughout the state that are either members of the NAACP or various constituent groups that have civil rights issues."

He runs the Chapel Law group, which operates throughout the state, and also works "of counsel" at Barnes and Associates in Jefferson City.

Chapel said one week he added up how much he had traveled and it was more than 1,000 miles – and that's just in-state.

When he's not working as a lawyer or the president of the MO NAACP, Chapel spends time with his family. He also enjoys the outdoors.

"I scuba dive some. I don’t get out nearly as much as I use to, but I’m going to do some more of that, at least a little more this year, I’m sure of that," he said.

Chapel's journey to become president of the MO NAACP started, he said, when he was very young, as he watched his dad advocate for others.

"Watching that example, watching my mother, who still teaches at Lincoln, and everything she’s done to ensure that folks still have access to education, left a real mark on me."

He said his dad played a role in the biggest desegregation case decided by the Supreme Court.

"I understood that my dad picked cotton to fund the litigation that became Brown vs. the Board of Education," he said. "So with that, I kind of feel a responsibility not only to the organization, but to the idea that advocacy must occur, and to be honest with you, those inequities are also what drove me to the law."

Life didn't start in Missouri for Chapel. He came to the state after he graduated law school. He started his career by working as a clerk for the Missouri Supreme Court. He eventually came to replace his father as president of the Jefferson City NAACP. He's been president of the state branch for two years now.

He played a part in the organization's decision to issue a travel ban in Missouri. It encouraged minorities to stay away from the state because their civil rights might be violated.

Chapel said decades of informing citizens of dangers to their civil rights weren't having the desired effects, so he wanted to warn people.

"Missouri’s got some issues that need to be addressed and we as a society, as a people in the state, have got to call for those to be addressed," Chapel said. "And if we can’t get those fixed, the least that we can do is tell people before they get here, or if they live here, what they could be confronting."

Chapel said he hopes he can address those issues by continuing to expand the NAACP and adding a board of experts who can testify on various subjects. Chapel said Missouri has always been an important battleground for civil rights.

It's where the former slave Dred Scott sued for his freedom and where Frank Lloyd Gaines had to receive a court order to allow him to go to MU law school.

"There are a lot of tragedies that have occurred in MO and around the country," Chapel said. "Some of those relate to nothing more than skin color and perceptions of those and who has power and who doesn’t."

February is Black History Month and the president of the MO NAACP has a message to share with everyone in Missouri:

"Do we want to perpetuate some of the same harms that have emanated from Missouri in the past with Dred Scott, with the Missouri Compromise, or do we want to lead in a new direction, where maybe our children, or our grandchildren can look forward and say ‘the civil rights struggles that were fought in the 40s, 50s, 60s that are still being fought in the 1910s and 1920s or 2000s can have been put to bed or perhaps eased in some way.'"

Chapel said he hopes to see a brighter future.

"So maybe in 20 years, we’ve got a society that gets along, that makes accommodations for everyone in a democracy, that democracy equals fair play and justice and that when we celebrate Black History Month, we can celebrate some of those triumphs for all people," he said.