Tristan Breaux, a 200+ Man, Elected As The New President of the Norfolk NAACP

31 Dec 2012 4:21 PM | Valencia Jowers (Administrator)
When Tristan Breaux was recently elected the President of the Norfolk NAACP, he became the youngest leader of one of the civil rights organization’s oldest local units in the nation. While some say that perhaps he may be too young for such a high profile role, a growing number of the group’s members are beginning to grasp the idea that his election may help keep the region’s oldest NAACP alive and relevant.

Breaux has been sworn in at a time when the group has 500-plus dues paying members; yet, only a handful of them show up for monthly meetings. Breaux is 25 years of age. The youngest member is 24. Most of the adult members are over 50 – the oldest being 82-year-old Melinease Hutchinson, who is the organization’s treasurer.

Hutchinson knows something about stepping into a role and confronting skepticism from the old guard. She was the Norfolk NAACP’s first female president several decades ago. While Breaux confronts the questions of his ability to lead because of his youth, she faced skepticism from long time members of an organization not familiar with a woman leading the way.

Hutchinson said she has been grooming Breaux, seeking to clear a pathway through the forest of concern, to assure and arrest the apprehension of older members who fear his youth and relative inexperience. Hutchinson has been a stable and visible leader in the organization, tracking the finances, lending a hand in planning the annual events such as the Freedom Fund banquet and keeping the morale of the membership on a positive note.

“I think his youth will be an asset for us. He is young, but he is energetic, politically astute and knowledgeable and respectful enough of the NAACP’s history to want to move it forward,” said Hutchinson. “I fear that we are just two years from having our last Freedom Fund banquet, if we do not do something to pursue our future."

“Some of the older members who may have reservations are warming up to the idea of new leadership,” she continued. “A lot of institutions are dying because they push the younger people out or destroy their interest. But a lot of the heads of the leadership of these organizations are wearing black-haired wigs over graying hair and their membership is dying out. Organizations like the NAACP have got to let the next generation step forward or cease to exist.”

Breaux, a native of Queens, New York, says that generational diversity can be viewed as an asset rather than a distraction. The more seasoned members of the Norfolk NAACP can lend expertise and experience when they interact with the younger ones. Conversely the younger members can help the organization move forward as a voice for discrimination and social-economic justice issues by sharing their energy, technical skills and willingness to work.

Along with bridging the generational gap within the organization, Breaux said he wants to help steer it into a more relevant position as a voice of the community and make it fiscally viable.

Fundraising and increasing the level of paid memberships are on the list of ways to achieve it A proposed golf tournament and the scheduling of motivational speakers to address critical community issues are being viewed among ways to foster greater interest in the work of the organization and spur people to join and fill its coffers.

Breaux is a student of NAACP history and its role and functions. His grandparents raised him and encouraged his participation in the youth branch of the New York NAACP.

“It gave me an opportunity to observe and learn about community organizing, Roberts Rules of Order and how people develop views on issues,” said Breaux. “At age 12, I got even more insight into the working of the NAACP and the kind of people who developed themselves working inside it. This is why I stayed involved.”

After high school, Breaux enrolled at Johnson C. Smith College and then Norfolk State University, his alma mater. He joined campus units of the NAACP, learning more about the organization.

During the past weeks, he has been meeting with members of city council, including the Vice Mayor, City Manager and other high profile leaders, seeking to open lines of communication and lay out his “vision” for the Norfolk NAACP. At the same time he is using the meetings to outline the type of relationship the NAACP should have with the city’s political, business and civic establishments.

Breaux hopes to encourage constructive and open dialogue on critical issues that “will foster sweeter fruit than antagonism.”

“We cannot address all of the key issues which need attention, but we will choose the ones we know we have leverage,” said Breaux. "We will work with other organizations to address issues and will dialogue and build accord. If we see no movement we must bring the eyes and support of the community and the media as a means to showing that we are serious about reform, inclusion and action to correct problems facing our community.”

During 2012, 33 people, mostly African Americans in Norfolk alone, lost their lives to gun violence, the highest number of homicides in any of the Hampton Roads cities. Breaux said that is one issue he wants to join forces in addressing with Norfolk’s Police Chief, Sheriff, City Manager, schools officials and the various civic groups, especially as it relates to youth.

Economic development is another issue he views as important.

“It would be great to create dialogue with the city’s officials to help bring more people to the table to get involved with Norfolk’s economic development,” said Breaux. “Especially in terms of procurement and expanding the number of minorities to compete and secure contracts and other business with the city. I am doing my research on ideas to effectively address that issue.”

The level of crime committed by youth can be linked to the proportion of them who are dropping out or being pushed out of public school classrooms. Breaux said he would like to engage the city’s School Superintendent and the school board to lower the level of youths dropping out the local school division’s classrooms.

Further, he wants the NAACP to help address the issue of academic achievement among minority youth in the city’s schools. He said that increasing the level of parental participation in the educational experiences of their children is a key element.

“ I am part of the generation which did not sit in the back of the bus. We did not attend segregated schools or march for civil rights,” said Breaux. “But we appreciate the people who did because they paved the way and created the privileges my generation enjoys today."

“All of the barriers are not gone. But my generation is more inclusive in our view toward race; at the same time realizing we have a lot of work to do to resolve problems related to it.”

He continued, “My generation asked the question ‘what have you done for me now’. How can I reach across the table and create dialogue so that we all can move forward on an equality footing?

Written by Leonard E. Colvin, Chief Reporter, New Journal and Guide, January 2, 2013.
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software