Willie Smith spent nearly his entire adult life making a difference as an educator after moving to Cocoa in the 1970s.
Although he intended to only stay a short time on his way to medical school, he remained here and has witnessed positive changes as well as struggles for equality.
“I had not planned on being in Florida that long, I intended to go out west to California,” Smith said. “It is amazing to see the changes that have taken place in the area since I’ve been here.”
Now the man from Hampton, Va., who has taught biological sciences at what is now Eastern Florida State College for nearly 40 years, has taken on a new role as president of the Central Brevard Branch of the NAACP.
The 64-year-old Smith, who is in his second year leading the branch, sat down at the Porcher House in Cocoa Village with FLORIDA TODAY to discuss how the NAACP is evolving and how his branch, with about 300 members, can still make a difference in the community.
Question: Why did you become involved with the NAACP?
Smith: I’ve always wanted to belong to something that was positive, and the NAACP to me is a very positive organization that everyone should be a part of. Not just because I am African-American, but because it is dealing with people. It upsets me when I see people treated unfairly. Being a part of the NAACP motivates me.
Question: How can the NAACP generate more interest in the community?
Smith: I would like to play an important role in trying to increase membership in the branch. We need more people at the general meetings. That is where you learn things. They are the town meetings. Come to the general meetings and express yourself, learn what is going on. Then you have a better understanding of what is going on.
The purpose of the general meetings is to voice any problems you may be having in the community. Then if we know about the problem, we can take it to the next level. Some of the issues are not something the NAACP can handle. If we can’t help you directly, maybe we can direct you to someone who can. Just don’t give up. If people don’t come to us, there is nothing we can do.
Question: How can the NAACP attract the younger generation?
Smith: We are dealing with a different generation of young people. I’ve seen a change in the students I teach in class. How they look at things is quite different. We have to try different ways to reach them. It doesn’t mean we have to compromise our values, but I think we need to listen to what they have to say and involve them more in the decision-making. But there are certain values that need to be maintained.
Source: Florida Today | Scott Gunnerson, Brevard