Flagler County NAACP President Linda Sharpe Haywood’s job is breaking down barriers, fighting discrimination — sometimes loudly, she said.
(For the full list of WHAT TO WATCH IN 2014, click here.)
“We have a reputation of being rabble-rousers, and I’ve been told that to my face,” she said. “But in this job, you have to break down barriers. When I see something that’s wrong, I’m obligated to speak out about it.”
Sharpe Haywood said one of her biggest struggles as president of the local NAACP chapter has been getting people to acknowledge that it’s still relevant. But as long as hate groups still recruit and hiring discrimination is still a problem in Flagler County, she said, it is.
“Jim Crow is not wearing white sheets anymore,” she said. “He’s more sophisticated. And that’s frightening.”
Sharpe Haywood, a retired New York Police Department officer who moved to Flagler County in 1999, has been a regular at Flagler County School Board meetings, where she has advocated for a national search to replace retiring School Board Superintendent Janet Valentine.
The Flagler County NAACP has also pressed the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and local police and fire departments to recruit more black deputies, officers and firefighters, to create a workforce reflective of the community, Sharpe Haywood said.
“What I’m opposed to is cronyism,” she said. “Let the best man or woman have the job, but interview everybody and give everybody a chance.”
Education in Flagler County is just one of the issues the Flagler County NAACP deals with, she said, but it’s one of the most important.
“I’d like this to be a place where children can thrive,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re going to lose them. They’re going to leave, and we’re going to have a dying community here. It’s going to be a shell.”
Sharpe Haywood has been one of a number of figures pressing the school district on what the Southern Poverty Law Center — a Montgomery, Ala.-based organization that tracks hate groups and fights policies it deems discriminatory — has called disparate disciplinary treatment of African American students by Flagler County schools.
“Minority children have been penalized more harshly,” Sharpe Haywood said. “To get into a schoolyard scuffle or something — that shouldn’t make you have to go to jail.”
The SPLC report, a formal complaint to the U.S. Department of Education prompted in part by student and parent complaints to the Flagler County NAACP, said district staff “punishes African American students more harshly and more frequently than white students” and that the school district “maintains an educational environment that is hostile to African American children and deprives those students equal access to educational benefits and opportunities.”
Sharpe Haywood says she has been in dialogue with the district to improve the situation.
“We need more resources, more psychologists, more guidance counselors,” she said. She also has challenged the use of out-of-school suspension, which she said does nothing to help a child that’s at risk, and advocated the hiring of more minority teachers and administrators.
The Flagler County NAACP is also doing its own work to help out students through the local NAACP ACT-SO program, a competition which encourages African American children’s participation in the sciences, performing and visual arts, humanities and business, and has used volunteer tutors and coaches to foster students’ extracurricular involvement, Sharpe Haywood said.
“We’ve had dozens of volunteers: coaches, teachers, mentors,” she said. “And we’ve also had help from the school district — they’ve been very generous — and from the Sheriff’s Office.”
Last year, she said, about 40 children took part in the program. Another local NAACP youth program prepares kids for college by helping them prepare for standardized tests and college applications and learn interviewing skills.
Get out the vote
Meanwhile, Sharpe Haywood said, the Flagler County NAACP is gearing up for its get-out-the-vote effort for the 2014 elections.
“January is our kickoff, and it’s usually Martin Luther King Jr. Day,” she said. “The state of Florida and especially the NAACP registered a record number of voters last year, and got them to the polls.”
The Flagler County NAACP has about 500 members and has trained about 40 people to help register voters, Sharpe Haywood said, and is still accepting volunteers.
“We will be in the communities registering people to vote and educating people about the voting process, and letting them know that your local election has more of an impact on you and the rest of your life than a national election,” she said.
The Flagler County NAACP has also held forums and seminars to educate the public on civic responsibility, she said, and hosted candidate forums where candidates of every party spoke about their platforms and took questions from the audience.
Haywood says her own move to Palm Coast from New York City wasn’t an easy one — she called it “culture shock, going from a breakneck-speed pace to almost a screeching halt” — but she plans to stay.
“There’s a lot to say for this community,” she said. After her husband Darryl Haywood, a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, was killed in the line of duty in 2004, Sharpe Haywood said, the community pulled together to help her.
“This community was awesome to me and my family,” she said. “So I know how wonderful and unique Palm Coast is. I plan on living out the rest of my life here.”
BOX: Linda Sharpe Haywood fast facts
Job: NAACP president
From: New York City
Lives in: Palm Coast
Family: One son, a federal law enforcement officer; one daughter, a psychiatric nurse; and three grandchildren. Sharpe Haywood’s husband, Darryl Haywood, was a Florida Highway Patrol trooper killed in the line of duty in 2004.
Hobbies: Singing, dancing, and travel: went to China in 2007, Egypt in 2009 and Namibia as a missionary in 2009.
BOX: Flagler County NAACP
Web address: flaglercntynaacp.org
Branch office: 1 Florida Park Drive S., Suite 305, in Palm Coast
(For the full list of WHAT TO WATCH IN 2014, click here.)