New President Of Blair County NAACP Shares Hopes For Racial Justice And Memories Of Don Witherspoon
The Blair County Chapter of the NAACP has named a new leader and a slate of new officers, after longtime president Don Witherspoon passed away and three other senior positions were vacated.
WPSU’s Min Xian talks with the new President and CEO, Andrae Holsey, about his background and his visions for the role.
Here’s the conversation:
Min Xian: Andrae Holsey, thank you for joining us.
Andrae Holsey: Absolutely. It's my honor and my pleasure.
Min Xian: You're an outspoken advocate for racial justice in Blair County, being the Political Outreach Director at Progress for People of Color and volunteering at the Alliance for Police Accountability. How have your experiences prepared you for the role of President of the Blair county NAACP chapter?
Andrae Holsey: So not even just in my own experiences, but where I'm coming from. My father was born in segregated Washington D.C., my family subject to various forms of slavery until 1918. At five, six years old, the Ku Klux Klan showed up on my front doorstep in Page County, Virginia, and brought my family here to Pennsylvania. And it's been a passion of mine, all through school growing up, you know, my senior project revolved around Black Lives Matter, the movement, and what we can do to take steps forward, the solutions we can offer. So coming from my roots, and expanding my experience with the ongoing protests and, you know, co-founding the organization, Progress for People of Color, working with the APA out of Pittsburgh, I feel well equipped.
Min Xian: You have talked about how you hope to work with the county's District Attorney's Office to ensure fairness in bail and incarceration. What do you think needs to change when it comes to these issues?
Andrae Holsey: So first and foremost, the district attorney's position is the single most important position in the entire criminal justice system. The district attorney sets the precedent for how proceedings will go in court. They decide what charges are going to be applied to a defendant. You know, they choose who get subpoenaed to court as witnesses, they set the narrative for the jury in terms of prosecutions. So the DA is incredibly critical. But the district attorney's office is also where discrimination can occur, you know, the most frequently. We see that right now going on in Pittsburgh with the challenge to District Attorney Zappala, with, you know, the Attorney General's Office being involved, multiple other attorneys, multiple judges locally, speaking out about blatant racism and systemic racism coming from his office. So what I would like to see in Blair county and beyond is fair sentencing, fair application of the law, equal application of the law, and a greater consciousness from district attorneys regarding defendants of color, defendants below the poverty line, greater accommodation to make sure that they get a speedy and fair trial that is constitutionally guaranteed.
Min Xian: The chapter lost its longtime President Don Witherspoon in December, and its Secretary Virginia Day in January. Can you talk about their impact on Blair County, and maybe on you personally, as well?
Andrae Holsey: With Blair County chapter being the oldest chapter in the State Conference of the NAACP, Mr. Witherspoon had an incredible influence on the decisions of the state NAACP. And State President, Reverend Huston, Kenneth Huston, even credits Don as being a mentor to him. He influenced racial policy and equity policy across the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And with this state being such an influential state, in turn, he helped influence, you know, the decisions of the country. He was a father figure to everyone in this community. Man never missed a sports event, a concert and opportunity to go support young people, including myself, and it went beyond him and my dad being golf buddies, it was to the point that he personally invested in my education, and my success going forward because he saw the passion that I had for this topic. And it meant a great deal to me when he asked me if I would, you know, if he could pass on the torch to me, I'm incredibly grateful. They're big shoes to fill.
Min Xian: Yeah, and now the torch has been passed to a new generation. You're 22 years old and the youngest president in the history of this chapter, which, like you mentioned, is Pennsylvania's oldest NAACP chapter. Both of the new vice presidents are the first LGBTQ officers there. What does this generational change mean to you?
Andrae Holsey: A, it provides an opportunity for new perspective. Now granted, the executive committee provides oversight to the officers. So we've made sure that members of the executive committee have had some longtime experience at least in activism, if not just with the NAACP. But having this new generation puts a new lens on the social spectrum, because there's new issues that affect us that didn't affect people 50, 60 years ago, even 20, 30 years ago. It adds a new lens, it adds a new voice. Dr. King believed strongly in the power of youth, you know, he was 26 years old when they started the freedom rides. And we intend to continue the work that started then, and set up success for the next generations after us.
Min Xian: There are a lot of political divides nationally, including with activism and voting rights. How do you see them play out locally? And what does it mean to you becoming a local leader at this time of change?
Andrae Holsey: It is of my personal opinion that the major parties profit greatly off of conflict, and major corporations that are invested in those politics also profit off of conflict. It is my goal to reiterate to people that we're not all that different from each other. And that the sooner that we come together and stop beating each other down for our differences, the sooner that we can accomplish change to put everyone on the same path.
Ultimately, it's my organization's job to hold both sides of the aisle accountable. Regardless of personal leanings, you know, we're here to make sure that the entire government process is transparent, and all of its interactions with the citizens who it is meant to serve. I hope to continue to influence those things locally, show people that just because you voted for somebody in the presidential election, doesn't determine the entire rest of your life. I care about where this community goes. I care about where both of the parties are as far as they represent people. And it concerns me that we're in a culture of a lot of people aren't pro anything, they're just anti the other side. And so that's our opportunity to offer what I would call common sense solutions that allow us to continue to move forward, you know, in bipartisan ways.
Min Xian: Andrae Holsey is the new President of Blair County’s NAACP. Thank you for talking with me.
Andrae Holsey: Thank you for having me.
Min Xian: I’m Min Xian, WPSU.