Prince William NAACP Branch Gives Back Through Education, Legal Defense and More

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By Katrina Wilson

COVID-19 testing, Black business symposiums, voter education and registration are a few examples of how the Prince William branch of the NAACP has contributed to solving challenges within the community over the years.

History

The history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People dates back to 1909 when it was founded bymen and women of color and other nationalities. A few notable founding members are W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida Wells-Barnett and Mary White Ovington.

They converged in response to the consistent violence against Black people around the country. The Prince William branch of the NAACP was chartered in 1935 and has been active in the community ever since.

Focal Points

NAACP, giving back 1120

Rev. Cozy Bailey, current president of Prince William NAACP Branch
speaks to a group of youth at a Black History program at Potomac Middle School. (Photo by PW NAACP)

While the NAACP’s mission is to eliminate racial prejudice and racial discrimination, they do so proactively through various avenues. The Prince William branch’s focal points are economic sustainability, health, public safety and criminal justice, voting rights and political representation, youth engagement and
education.

Rev. Cozy Bailey is president of the PW branch and has been serving for four years. He offered insight on current committees in the PW branch.

ECONOMIC SUSTAINABILITY

“In the last three years, we’ve conducted a Black business symposium,” Bailey said. “We organize and partner with the Northern Virginia Black Chamber of Commerce…”

According to Bailey, the symposium provides positive exposure for the businesses and is especially beneficial for those without many advertising avenues.

The branch also stays current on economic legislation.

HEALTH

The PW branch’s Health Committee has been dormant for a while but is currently growing.

“It’s still in its infancy, but I’ve been able to leverage an appointment to the Virginia African American Advisory Board,” Bailey said.

This board is a new state board that provides guidance and suggestions to the governor of Virginia on a variety of issues affecting African Americans throughout the commonwealth in an effort to bring a closer relationship between them and the governor on items that affect them. Through relationships on this board, free testing, on a limited basis, was made available this past May.

“Not just for the Black community, but underserved members of Prince William County,” he said. “Prince William County probably has the most robust testing and contact tracing in the entire Commonwealth for COVID testing — and testing is still free.”

PUBLIC SAFETY AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

When it comes to advocacy and problem solving for public safety and criminal justice, the PW branch has two approaches: tactical approach and general policy approach.

The tactical approach involves the Legal Redress Committee. This committee is activated when the NAACP is approached by members of the community who feel that they are being mistreated based upon race, age or gender.

“For a person who has found themself in the legal system or racial discrimination issues with institutions in the county, whether it be issues with politicians, schools or police,” he said, “We advocate for them by utilizing the vast amount of experience we have – former educational and former elected officials, for a better outcome with what these people are currently faced with. It’s considered tactical because if someone feels like they are in trouble . . . we try to solve within our ability to negotiate.”

On the general policy approach, PW’s NAACP branch works primarily with local law enforcement and elected officials to influence policy, such as requiring law enforcement officers to wear body cams.

“We played a large role in reviewing that policy because we had guidelines from our national office,” Bailey said. “Whenever local police departments obtain body-worn cameras or have standing use of them, the types of things we find important are to protect against intentional or unintentional racial bias. We sat down with the chief of police, and we went line-by-line on areas we thought it important they make modifications to the policy. We have an agreement with them to sit down periodically and review the
policy as they make changes.”

The PW branch is also actively involved in the citizen’s advisory board.

VOTING RIGHTS AND POLITICAL REPRESENTATION

The NAACP has sponsored and co-sponsored annual forums where people running for office come and answer questions from the NAACP’s joint committees. They also use that time to enhance voter registration and voter education.

“Our attitude is that maximum participation in the democratic process is always important,” he said. “What the pandemic has done is presented the reason for us to increase our efforts to encourage people to always exercise the franchise of voting because this year, there are so many challenges to it.”

YOUTH ENGAGEMENT

“We have a very active youth branch. We focus and work with youth between the ages of 12 and 18,” Bailey said. “We are trying to educate them on what it means to be a social justice advocate. They do that by partnering with the adult branch.”

The branch brings speakers in for students to learn what it means to be an advocate for social justice and keep the students engaged by educating them on how to organize a protest.

“We are protective of the children and don’t put them in harm’s way,” Bailey said. “Some of them organized protests and participated in a few of the protests in recent months.”

EDUCATION

“Our Education Committee has been very diligent this year,” he said. “Because of COVID-19, our education committee has been very much involved in providing inputs to the school board on our desires on how, when or if the school year will resume,” Bailey said. “We’ve been very successful in obtaining our objectives.”

He said people were frightened to have their children on a hybrid learning scenario. The voices of other organizations and the PW NAACP branch helped steer the decision toward virtual learning. “This is one of our larger and more active committees because we are constantly in contact with the school board to affect changes and understand what they may be overlooking,” he said.

Groundwork

Because of the pandemic, the branch, like many other organizations, has not been unable to hold many of their annual events. However, this does not mean they haven’t been active.

“During this COVID period the NAACP has been involved with almost every protest that has happened in recent months,” he said. “We have determined over the last 10 years, despite our policies of not defaulting to direct action immediately – we have so much in common with the #BlackLivesMatter Movement.”

Movements, registrations, education and symposiums are a few ways in which PW NAACP gives back.

“We are giving back in a way that the community appreciates and needs us,” he said. “We believe in the late John Lewis’ good trouble. Some people don’t appreciate our loud voices, but we are at the battlefield of social justice and are all about good trouble and inequity. With that, you have to make people uncomfortable.”

The Future

While the PW branch has not mapped out their plans for 2021, they still view themselves as the hub of the wheel of social justice in Prince William County.

Bailey said while thinking of this, other communities should realize that a post-racial society will not be in reach until inequitable treatment stops based on race.

“We are frequently faced with declarations that we are a post-racial society because of eight years of a Black president in The White House,” he said. “There are declarations that we have achieved the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but that is far from the truth. I don’t know if in our lifetime we will ever really achieve
a post-racial society in the United States. As long as there is inequitable treatment based on race or ethnic background there is a need for the NAACP.”

Bailey highlighted that the NAACP has been in action for 111 years, and that is because while they have been successful in solving racial problems in the country, the larger problem still exists.

“There is a constant battle to ensure that each and every person, including Black folks, can realize the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness,” Bailey said.

Katrina Wilson is a South Carolina native adjusting in Northern Virginia. She hopes that her stories bring a voice to various conversations or tell the story someone never knew how to tell. You can follow her on Twitter at KatrinaMWilson_

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