Defiant state attorney calls for ‘focus’ at West Volusia NAACP banquet
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Stay focused and be engaged was the message from Central Florida State Attorney Aramis Ayala during the 27th Annual West Volusia NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet on June 2 in DeLand.
Her message was in line with the banquet’s theme: “We the People Have the Power – Let’s Get Engaged.’’
“We do have the power, but we must exercise it. We get it twisted that the majority has the power.
We think public servants have power, but the people who put them there have the power,” said Ayala, who was removed from the case of Markeith Loyd of Orlando, who is accused of killing an Orlando police officer and his ex-girlfriend.
Ayala had stated in March that she would not seek the death penalty in the Loyd case or any others during her time in office. She later sued Gov. Rick Scott after he removed death penalty cases from her office. The Florida Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on Ayala’s case on June 28.
“You are the people with the power. You determine who gets in office. It’s not the power of one person but the voice of the people. Be engaged. There are plenty of people who talk and narrate but only a few who work,” commented Ayala.
Ayala spoke to a full house at the Wayne G. Sanborn Activity Center and received standing ovations during her introduction and following her speech.
Ayala, who became the state’s first Black attorney general last year when she was elected to the Ninth Judicial Circuit, encouraged everyone to pursue their goals and dreams.
“Today is a new day. All that you wanted to do last year, you can do now whether individual, group or family missions. There is nothing stopping you as an individual or organization from moving forward,” she stated.
“Your head is the only thing between you and your destiny. You must be ready to be engaged and prepared to stay engaged. Nobody said it would be easy.’’
Inspired by Marshall
Ayala also spoke on the relevance of the NAACP.
“I just quote Thurgood Marshall, who said ‘I wish I could say that racism is only distant memories….We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust. We must dissent because America can do better.
America has no choice but to get better.’ ’’
Ayala said she was inspired by the late Supreme Court justice.
“I am an NAACP member like my parents. The NAACP was part of my childhood. It meant something to me in law school as I learned about the great Thurgood Marshall. I dreamt of being an NAACP legal counsel just as him. I looked up to and admired Marshall,’’ she remarked.
“I understand what he did for this country. I am proud to say that I made history by being elected on Aug. 30, 2017 as the first Black state attorney in Florida on the same day Marshall became first Black Supreme Court justice in 1967. He not only bought diversity in name but he brought it in thought.”
Ayala told the audience to ensure diversity.
She said, “Diversity isn’t just having pepper sprinkles throughout. It’s about having diversity in thought. It’s when you value what another person has to say, what their life is and what their experiences are.”
Racism also was addressed.
Ayala expressed, “Active racism is poison, indifference to racism is cancer and apathy to racism is destruction. Some are intolerant because they have been a victim or seen someone be a victim to it.
“There are those who actively are involved in it and practice it. They make comments. Others are apathetic. When it comes to right or wrong with humanity you are either for it or against it. That is why NAACP so important. It’s the one group in this country that is against racism.”
On civil rights
The speaker warned about cancers in society and within the organization.
Ayala explained, “Violating civil rights, inhumane treatment, violence and death, injustice and racism are all monsters and cancers. Whoever fights monsters must see to it that they don’t become monsters themselves. You focus on what is true, honest, just, and pure and what comes from the heart.”
She also said that Black Americans’ citizenship rights must be ensured.
“When the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified, we became the people. We are citizens of this country and citizens of this state. We will be respected as such. Not because we are Black, because we are Americans and were born here.”
The Euclid High School Class of 1960 was also honored. The group of teenagers who attended the school back during segregation led sit-ins in downtown DeLand at Woolworth’s and McCrory’s which resulted in Woolworth’s closing its doors in town. The group includes current Volusia County Councilwoman at-large Joyce Cusack and Dr. Caretha Evans-Brown.
‘The Difference Maker of the Year’ awards went to City of DeLand Construction Inspector Demetris Pressley and Sharon Stafford of Orange City for their work in the community. Stafford is CEO of Everybody Is Somebody, Inc., and a former bank manager.
The President’s Award went to Barbara Grimm for her work in increasing the branch membership along with Willie Stevens and Lucinda Stevens for making the West Volusia NAACP Branch the highest in voter registration amongst all Florida NAACP branches.
University of Central Florida freshman McKenzie Angela Briggs was re-awarded the scholarship of $1,000.
No high school seniors submitted qualified applications. With the approval of the scholarship award committee, last year’s winner received another scholarship.
For more on the West Volusia NAACP go to www.westvolusianaacp.org.