Editor’s note: This is one in a series of stories on local residents making a difference.
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Since 2001, Cynthia Slater has been at the forefront of the local civil rights fight in her role as president of the Daytona Beach/Volusia County NAACP. The position follows decades of involvement in various roles, including vice president.
The Daytona Beach native is motivated to continue fighting because of the inequalities she says are still going on.
“I see the continuation of inequalities when it comes to civil rights, employment, politics,
criminal justice, health, housing, education, and more. Unfortunately, in a way it’s gotten worst in the last 15 years, even under my watch. I am passionate and committed to this fight,” she told the Daytona Times.
Arrested for advocacy
Since the 1980s, Slater has been involved with the NAACP. From 1998 to 2001, she served as first vice president of the local branch under Charles W. Cherry II, former president and Daytona Times founder, who went on to serve as a Daytona Beach city commissioner.
“While working with the local NAACP back in the ’90s and seeing the treatment of young Black students during the Black College Reunion (BCR) encouraged me to get more involved,’’ Slaver recalled.
At one time, Black College Reunion was a major annual spring break event in Daytona Bach, attracting more than 100,000 visitors.
“I was arrested and handcuffed one year. It was a group of students who were pulled over by the sheriff’s department. They were tossing the kids’ clothes and underwear. That was demeaning. I gave them one of our flyers and a deputy pushed me. I was arrested and taken to some place. I was uncuffed and put at a desk.”
In family’s footsteps
It was one of the many incidents the Daytona Beach native would have to deal with as one of its foremost African American leaders.
Slater is the youngest of nine children of the late Robert and Celeste Slater. Growing up, Slater saw her older siblings take part in the civil rights movement here in Daytona Beach.
“I didn’t realize or understand what was really going on. I was 8 years old when my older brothers and sisters were doing sit-ins at Steak ’n Shake,” she said.
“I didn’t understand why we had to go to the beach in New Smyrna with one right here. Why we had to move off the sidewalks when a White person moved by. I understood when I became a teenager.’’
‘A culture shock’
Slater attended local schools – Bonner Elementary, Campbell Junior High, Holly Hill Junior High and Mainland High.
When the school system integrated, she went from Campbell after seventh grade to Holly Hill for eighth grade.
“Let’s just say that society didn’t prepare us for integration. It was a culture shock for both Black and White kids. The White kids were more prepared than us Blacks. Even once Mainland was integrated, we did walkouts due to unfair treatment of Black students,” Slater recalls.
Slater attended Bethune-Cookman College (now University), where she received her bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1979.
“I loved my time in college. I was a cheerleader and Miss P.E. and a queen. The teachers taught us academics but life lessons as well. They taught us to dress for success, have Black pride, to be the best we can be and more,” Slater related.
Her professional career included two years as a physical education teacher at Holly Hill Junior High and a 37-year career with the Florida Division of Blind Services.
“I started teaching as a recreation therapist and ended up supervising teachers for 15 years with the Blind Services. The job was supportive of my work with the NAACP. I taught the blind, but they also taught me. Despite people being visually impaired, they can still do just about anything everyone else can,” expressed Slater.
Her stint as a physical education teacher influenced her to work with the blind.
Slater emphasized, “My time as a P.E. teacher, I had a student that was blind. All the kids picked her last during P.E. when we picked teams for sports. One day I changed things up and made her a captain. That is when I knew that I needed to do more.”
‘Great support system’
Slater did all of this as a single mother; her daughter, Keona Slater-Barnwell is now a well-established adult.
“Raising her and doing what I was doing had its challenges, but I had a great support system. My late parents did a lot with her when she was small and I was working,” noted Slater.
Slater has master’s degrees in both visual disabilities and teacher leadership. She also worked on a doctorate in higher education and adult learning.
“I started my doctorate but didn’t finish. I figured I’d teach at the collegiate level one day,” noted Slater.Through it all, she thanks those who have supported her.
“I am thankful for all those who supported me and all those who came before me. My parents were always there when they were alive,” she shared, noting that she’s eager to groom someone to eventually take her place.
“The late Mr. Cherry also saw something in me to groom me as the leader of the NAACP. I thank him. I am trying to find someone younger to pass the torch on to,’’ she added.