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St. Clairsville Resident Brooks Hopes to Revive NAACP in Belmont County

Bill Brooks of St. Clairsville, center, with Greg Hawthorne of St. Clairsville and Kendra Heskett of Barnesville and others are attempting to revive the Belmont County chapter of the NAACP. They are reaching out for new prospective members and planning activities.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — City resident Bill Brooks is spearheading an effort to reopen a branch of the NAACP in Belmont County, and he and other organizers are on the lookout for prospective members.

Brooks was a mayoral candidate during the November election and has long been active in local politics, including a 2018 grassroots opposition to a proposed school levy many thought was excessive. He also was a vocal opponent to a proposal to privatize the city water system in 2019.

Brooks said he is impressed with the resources and heritage of the NAACP.

“The NAACP is a non-violent organization. They don’t believe in rioting and looting,” Brooks said, adding the organization was formed in the early 1900s in response to rioting and turmoil at the time. “The reason I like the NAACP over anyone else is they are not a splinter group. They have a legal defense fund. If they take a complaint, they have the money to fight it.

“My main purpose with this is to get representation from all colors, because the new NAACP, it will fight for the civil rights of gays, people of color, handicaps,” he said.

Brooks said there have been incidents of racial insensitivity in St. Clairsville in the past month, including when a councilman shared a social media post critical of the Black Lives Matter movement that he later removed.

He said Belmont County’s chapter of the NAACP closed about seven years ago and the organization requires about 50 people before it can be recognized again.

“You can start it with 25, but if you have a charter and it went down, they want you to have 50 to bring it back up,” he said.

Brooks said there are already about 10 members in the group, including Greg Hawthorne, a retired lawyer, who has been a friend of Brooks since high school. He will offer legal advice to the group.

“This is the organization of Thurgood Marshall (civil rights lawyer and associate justice of the Supreme Court),” Hawthorne said. “It has always been about reconciliation and bringing different races together. Sometimes there will be disagreements. Sometimes there will be loud disagreements, but I grew up here and was gone for 30 years and I came back. It’s a different Ohio Valley and a better Ohio Valley than when Bill and I were kids, but there’s still a long way to go. Everybody has a choice. You can be part of the problem. You can sit it out, which also makes you part of the problem, or you can try as hard as you can to bring about understanding.”

Hawthorne noted the importance of awareness.

“In Belmont County if you’re white, you don’t have to think about your race,” he said. “For black people in America, race is a central fact of their life. They never forget it for a minute. That’s a bridge that I hope to help build.”

Kendra Heskett of Barnesville has also joined.

“It’s clear that racism is ingrained in our culture, especially around here, and one of our goals is to plant those seeds with the youth,” she said. “It’s all about unlearning racist behaviors. That you may not even be aware of.”

“We want to be able to register people to vote, help them get registered to vote,” Brooks said.

“And get them to the polls. Get them mail ballots or whatever it takes,” Hawthorne said.

They hope to hold educational activities for children and to work with other organizations.

Brooks said they want to focus on youth in both membership and particular in taking offices.

“I want them to attend. I want them to have the offices,” he said. He hopes to hold meetings throughout the county in organizations and churches.

Brooks said he believes recent events such as the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has increased racial tension. He said racial turmoil is also rising with the coming presidential election.

“The race card…it’s really being played now,” Brooks said.

“A better understanding leads to a better community,” Brooks said.

Anyone interested may call Brooks at 740-312-9363 and leave a message. Brooks can also be reached on Facebook by private message.

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