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A PRINCIPAL VISIONARY

It has been almost a year since Ray Tampa became the 18th president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP, the latest in a long line of leaders typically chosen from the education, ministerial and legal fields.

The businessman and former school principal, 57, came onboard vowing to tackle problems in education, economic development and crime in the black community. He spoke about the challenges and work ahead during a recent interview.

What are the toughest problems facing St. Petersburg's African-American community?

There are several issues that are of significant concern. The education of our kids is of the utmost concern, especially when it is noted that we live in the district that is ranked last (in Florida) in terms of the graduation rate. The number of black males failing to graduate, roughly eight out of 10, suggests that we are in the depths of a real crisis. We also must deal with this crime issue, especially the black-on-black crimes. The economy and joblessness represent serious matters that we must contend with on a daily basis. Furthermore, the disproportionate rates of infection from HIV/AIDS are literally devastating our community. And the list goes on.

How does the NAACP plan to solve these problems?

First, I don't want to suggest that the NAACP is going to solve these problems. However, I do want to say that the NAACP plans on sitting at the table with various stakeholders to strategize on plans to effectively deal with these serious matters of concern. For example, shortly after I was elected president, I asked the question, "Why are we still in mediation with the School Board on the Bradley lawsuit (which led tothe desegregation of Pinellas schools in the late 1960s)?" I called the attorney for the plaintiff, Enrique Escarraz, and asked him a few questions. I later opened discussions with the NAACP's awesome education committee. I sent a letter that was co-signed by the Upper Pinellas/Clearwater NAACP president, Alma Bridges, to all the stakeholders involved with this lawsuit informing them that I was appointing two members to sit on the mediation team. We are now engaged, again, in the process of resolving this lawsuit.

There has been much talk, even from President Obama, about the need for black parents to get involved in their children's education. Is the NAACP putting any effort into encouraging parents to play a greater role in their children's schooling?

Yes, in a very determined way. I say in a very determined way because this is a concern that has been around for an unfortunate number of years. But we intend to charge on. Our recently held education forum entitled "Education, Who Cares?" was not well-attended. In part, I attributed it to the day and time - Saturday morning at 9:30. The parents were at the football fields, it seemed. Believe me, we will forge ahead and encourage parents of the need for their involvement. No excuses!

In these post-segregation and what some have even referred to as post-racial days, has the NAACP outlived its purpose?

The NAACP is as relevant today as it was when it was founded in 1909. The mission remains to ensure the political, social, economic and educational equality of rights for all people. Furthermore, our vision is to eliminate racial hatred and discrimination in our country. Ask yourself, do we still have racial hatred in our country? Do we have equality of rights for all our African-American, Latino, Asian, gay and lesbian brothers and sisters? We are not there yet, I must say.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

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