Maria L. Scruggs
BY CINDY CARTER, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG – January 1, 2018, witnessed the St. Petersburg Branch of the NAACP celebrate the 155th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Every year the branch pays tribute to the real meaning of the Emancipation Proclamation and how it pertains to African Americans today.
NAACP President Maria Scruggs didn’t waste any time pinpointing the issues plaguing the black community in St. Pete and the nation today. She said to those in attendance at Gethsemane Missionary Baptist that Abraham Lincoln and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to get across that the Emancipation Proclamation was the catalyst to get black people to fight for their freedom.
“It enabled the Negro, and yes I’m going to say Negro, an opportunity to play a significant role in our own liberation,” said Scruggs.
With the Proclamation, black people were given the ability to organize against the struggle without having to worry about the physical abuse of slavery, at least that was the idea.
Dr. King pushed the notion of the black community standing together and fighting for racial freedom without relying on politicians and others to take on the mission of equality.
“If the Emancipation Proclamation paved the way for the Negro to fight for his own liberation, then something has gone terribly wrong in our St. Petersburg, in the state of Florida and in the United States of America,” said Scruggs.
On the national scene, a president has been elected that Scruggs pointed out has groped women, mocked a disabled journalist and has little regard for diversity and inclusion. “Something has gone terribly wrong,” she repeated.
She points to the black community not standing up and fighting for their voices to be heard, citing the seven percent decline in voter turnout during the 2016 presidential election.
“While we don’t own the problem of what we put in the White House, we do have to accept responsibility that we didn’t do all that we were called to do when it was time to vote.”
She continued with the plight of African Americans in the criminal justice system in comparison to Caucasians and Hispanics, saying that the number of African Americans in jail is higher than other races and graduation rates among black youth in St. Pete is still lower than their racial counterparts.
Scruggs wanted to offer solutions and narrowed it down to one. It all comes down to unification: Agreeing on living a life that remembers morals, honor and truth, to not be swayed by the wickedness of others and the fear of making others uncomfortable with discussing the tough topics.
She recalled all the projects and slogans aimed at fixing the neighborhood she grew up in. From the “seamless city” campaign to the CRA. “For those of us who have been in the battle, we have been the victim of every redevelopment effort, to fix the Negro, but yet we still ain’t been fixed,” Scruggs said.
Scruggs pledged that 2018 would bring about a call for unity in the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, vowing to not settle for mediocrity or celebrate the inability to tell the truth. “We gonna call for it in 2019 and 2020 until we drop the foolishness that continues to keep us divided,” she said.
Plans are in the works to recruit 1,000 members throughout the year. The branch understands the greatest asset that they have lies in increasing the number of active participants in the organization and the community.
They are looking to mend relationships with those who have felt offended by past words and actions so that the NAACP and the black community can get serious about the work ahead.
Kent Channer, NAACP Treasurer
Calls for attendees to join and signup for a life membership were made. Pricing it out to just $6.25 a month. Over $50,000 was funneled through the treasury department, according to Kent Channer, NAACP treasurer, all of which he assured went to solidifying the St. Petersburg branch.
“If we partner with other organizations and make sure each one teach one, touch one, bring one, a lot of our resource needs slowly diminish,” he explained.
Since Channer has been with the NAACP, they have successfully passed their audit and the branch is in compliance with the national office.
Scruggs touted the accomplishments of local women making a difference, some in the limelight, some behind the scenes and called for the community to show their support and find their voice.
“Freedom is not free, you gotta sacrifice something,” she urged. “This is not going to be a journey that is paved in gold. Those that went before us died.”
For more information on how you can join or become involved in the local St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, log on to naacp-stpete.org.