By Julia Rudgers, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — It has been a few months since St. Petersburg native Maria L. Scruggs took over as the newly elected president for the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, and already she has taken action and made great strides to improve the branch, which was closed down for more than a year.
Scruggs is a Unit Supervisor for Orange County’s Community Corrections division where she managers both the Pretrial Release and Pretrial Diversion Units. She has been a member of the NAACP off and on since the age of 16. Nominated by a former branch president, Ray Tampa, and elected by a unanimous vote in September, her vision is for the branch to be viewed by the community as a catalyst for change and an advocate for social justice and equality.
Scruggs is extremely dedicated and serious about her role within the organization for this year. Normally officers serve two-year terms, but this is a special term because the branch’s suspension last year.
When asked to make an official statement about the branch, Scruggs said: “I would love to leave this year having laid the framework for planning the resurrection of the NAACP, which requires that the community see themselves as the NAACP. We must move beyond the notion of waiting for someone else to do the work. As a community we must begin to look within ourselves for the change we’re expecting. The challenge is that people have to learn to seek out their gifts.”
Scruggs has certainly been busy. Since elections were held in September, the branch has held four executive committee meetings, an executive committee board training session, two general membership meetings, hosted a candidate forum for Districts 1, 5 and 7 and performed the official swearing in ceremony for newly elected executive committee members. But Scruggs has many more plans before the year is up.
At the beginning of her term, Scruggs was already two steps ahead of the game. She presented the newly elected officers with a draft of a 120 day work plan and asked them to review it prior to an executive committee meeting scheduled for the following week.
Some chafed at this, but Scruggs stood by her convictions and persevered with her vision for the branch.
“For us to wait a whole month, we would lose people. I was prepared, in the event that I won, to address some immediate needs before us and not use the excuse we were just elected,” Scruggs affirmed. The new approach has garnered enormous community support so far, and promises to continue to do so.
So what are the issues that Scruggs is focusing on this year, and how will the work plan she has set into place begin to resolve these issues?
She has developed a three-point focus on areas that the branch must center on: concentrating on the development of a position statement and respective recommendations for the failing five schools in south St. Pete; the Southside St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA) for the purpose of boosting the economic position and economic equity through wealth building within the community and ensuring that the NAACP have a stake in providing an opportunity for the community to hear from those candidates running for city council.
Scruggs hopes the NAACP is able to persuade city officials that the plans for the CRA must lay the foundation and vision for the community to benefit from an economic redevelopment strategy that will target the residents and business owners in the area.
She asserted that previous redevelopment efforts in south St. Petersburg have yielded very little substantive change for the residents and business, and in many instances their circumstances have remained the same or worsened while the money left the community.
She is also adamant about developing a process by which the community can give input on their views about unemployment, discrimination and so on. Scruggs has called this public outreach Coco in Conversations. She plans to have standing committees within the NAACP branch to facilitate these conversations for members of the community.
Scruggs feels very strongly that one of the main issues to be addressed is discrimination itself, in its many forms. One of the main reasons why she believes that these conversations with the community will be so invaluable is due to the issue of intercultural discrimination. Scruggs defines intercultural discrimination as the internal hate people tend to have for each other and as a result we engage in behaviors and dialogue that on its surface is based on the individual’s social economic status, the color of one’s skin and even one’s gender.
“The first thing that has to happen to lay social justice within the community is that the African- American community needs to recognize the divisions within the community,” she averred.
Her views are not exclusive to the black community; she also recently made an enquiry on behalf of the St. Petersburg branch to the state NAACP regarding Governor Rick Scott’s opposition to Syrian refugees being allowed to come to Florida.
With Scruggs at the helm, the future is looking bright for the St. Petersburg NAACP. She is hoping to restore credibility and build trust within the community, one well-executed plan at a time.