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In the waning months of an unprecedented year in 2022, I emerged victorious by an overwhelming majority at our biennial election, which gave me a third term as president of the Hillsborough County Branch of the NAACP. Although the election was contentious, I was humbled and honored by the community’s support. Commitment and dedication to our mission and my leadership drove the standing-room-only swearing-in ceremony of new officers and executive at-large committee members. Those in attendance at ReBirth Missionary Baptist Church represented diverse supporters, including community leaders, elected officials, clergy, sororities, fraternities, and many other organizations. 

The work of the local branch of the NAACP is not immune to the polarization and volatility in the nation at large; in fact, its effects are apparent at the local level, and we find ourselves in a never-ending demand for advocacy and calls for justice and equality for all.

One issue that garnered a lot of our attention was our rallying with the community in our opposition to the Hillsborough County School Board’s intent to close one of our treasured elementary schools named for Dr. Ernest Everett Just, famed scientist and head of the Physiology Department at Howard University’s Medical School in Washington, D.C. Dr. Just became the first recipient of the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1915. This prestigious award was named in honor of Dr. Joel Spingarn, the Board of Directors Chair of the NAACP from 1913-1919. Additionally, Dr. Just received numerous awards and honors for his work in botany, sociology, and history. Dr. Just, a founding member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, left huge footprints in the history of the Divine Nine.

As a result of the community’s intervention, we were successful in our demands to create a task force that would redesign Just Elementary to meet the appropriate needs of the students. Re-design elements included but were not limited to the following: an appropriate and dynamic curriculum, smaller class sizes, 100% highly effective staff, and certified reading teachers for all students. The Hillsborough County Branch of the NAACP will remain a vigilant watchdog to ensure that the re-designed Dr. Just Elementary will create a positive learning experience in an environment that will equip its students with the knowledge and ability to be confident and successful at the next level of their educational journey.

We also added our voice in opposition to the Florida Department of Education’s assertion that the current African American history curriculum “indoctrinates students and advances a political agenda.” These assertions and other unjust and noxious actions by the State led the Hillsborough County Branch to stand resolutely with the Florida State Conference to proceed with a travel ban to Florida. 

We fervently believe the State’s effort to rewrite American history by excluding the voices and contributions of Black people is an affront to the descendants of those enslaved on these shores for over three hundred years without the benefit of compensation.

While this political conflict was raging, an old enemy of humanity surfaced to ban books thought to be controversial from our schools. The act of banning books is not new and has happened throughout history. However, we believe that arbitrarily banning books found offensive to a small group of people limits a person’s access to knowledge and ideas and the intellectual freedom to read a diverse selection of literary works. History demonstrates that many books once considered controversial and were removed from shelves, even in recent years, are now widespread among all types of readers. Interestingly, many books that were banned, censored, or challenged, including works of Shakespeare, Milton, Morrison, and Steinbeck, to name a few, have now acquired the status of classics.

To mitigate the actions of the few to negatively impact the many, the NAACP has been selected as a repository and distribution site by the AFT -American Federation of Teachers- for the many banned books in the State of Florida. We are the first branch in Florida to create a Freedom Library partnership with Beulah Baptist Institutional Church to house and distribute these books to the public.

2023 has been a year of developing partnerships, we recently partnered with the Urban League of Hillsborough County and Beulah Baptist Institutional Church to start a Saturday Freedom School where children can enroll for free to learn African American History. It is a bold venture that does not limit the focus on Black history to one month out of the year. Moreover, this school is open to all walks of life, irrespective of color, creed, or nationality, with a desire to be well-informed on the history of African Americans and their contributions to the world.

As our Historical Timeline illustrates, our work at the Hillsborough County Branch of the NAACP is unending but rewarding. I am unapologetically Black, and I am humbled by our work on behalf of black and brown people. We do what we do because we know that humanity benefits when we fight for what is right. Dr. King expressed it beautifully in his “Letter from A Birmingham Jail” when he said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly…”

I encourage those of goodwill to join me and the NAACP in making our community one where we are all Thriving Together in unity and peace.

Thank you,

Yvette Lewis, President