Torey Alston, first vice-president of the Florida NAACP State Conference; St. Pete NAACP President Esther Eugene
BY FRANK DROUZAS, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — The NAACP St. Pete Branch 5130 held its official installation of officers via virtual ceremony on Jan 1. The new slate includes President Esther Eugene, First Vice President Trenia Cox, Second Vice President Harry Harvey, Secretary Lydia Brown, Assistant Secretary Lawrence Clermont and Treasurer Dell Brown
Several past members of the organization’s executive committee sat in on the ceremony, as well as community leaders, including mayoral candidate Ken Welch, Pinellas County Commissioner Rene Flowers, City Councilpersons Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, Deborah Figgs Sanders and Gina Driscoll, Senator Darryl Rouson, School Board member Caprice Edmonds and former branch President Maria L. Scruggs.
Shortly after being sworn in, Eugene said the one word that has always defined St. Pete for her was “connectivity.”
“We stand here today connected by our desire to see a change,” she said. “We recognize that in order for our community to really achieve elimination of racial disparities, we must work together. We must ensure that no one person and no organization are operating in a silo. We are all on the same page, reading the same book titled, ‘We Love the People of St. Petersburg.'”
The branch’s mantra for this year and beyond, Eugene pointed out, would be the “three Rs” — reenergize, reclaim and recruit. That is, reenergize the branch and the community, reclaim the respect of the community and recruit powerful leaders in the community to join the NAACP and “begin to do the work that’s needed.”
Outlining her “Vision 2021,” Eugene stressed the need for NAACP membership to grow and create a true “one community” mindset. She also underscored the importance of holding the city accountable to the demand for good workforce housing and aims to ensure that the community has a true buy-in, engagement and participation in the development of Tropicana Field.
The new president also plans to encourage the school system to implement an evidence-based social, emotional learning curriculum for Black children and wants to create a spirit of “prevention versus punishment” for the city’s law enforcement agencies.
Pastor Robert Vinson of Faith Memorial Missionary Baptist Church offered some background and history of the NAACP, noting that its national office was established in 1910.
“The mission of the NAACP is simply to secure political, educational, social, economic equality of rights to eliminate race-based discrimination,” he explained, “and to ensure the health and well-being of all persons.”
The movement continued to grow throughout the country, adding branches and organizing generations of members that strived to make a difference in national matters such as elections and segregation.
Torey Alston, first vice-president of the Florida NAACP State Conference, swore in the new officers and called for the St. Pete branch to be strong, active and vibrant. Drawing upon history, he noted that between 1939 and 1940, a loose confederation of nine chapters throughout the state saw a need to coordinate branch activities to eliminate segregation and discrimination against Florida’s black citizens.
“On October 17-19, 1941, those branches met at Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church there in St. Petersburg and formed the first State Conference in the nation,” he said.
As Alston looked forward to 2021, he reflected on the events of 2020, noting the ravaging pandemic sweeping through Florida and the nation, the loss of civil rights giant Rep. John Lewis and the first African-American woman elected to the office of Vice President of the United States.
“The NAACP is the nation’s largest civil rights organization,” he said. “The boldest, baldest, most cussed at, talked about. When there is something going on in your town, who do folks call? The NAACP! When there is a shooting in your town when there is an issue with diversity, inequities, inclusion — who do they call? The NAACP!”
Alston encouraged executive branch members to read the NAACP Constitution and by-laws and commit to bringing five new memberships each month for the next six months. He also urged members to engage with the State Conference.
“We are here to support you, assist you and guide your local efforts,” he said. “Share with us the great things that are happening there in St. Petersburg.”
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