Tracey A. Edwards

Tracey A. Edwards is the Long Island Regional Director of the NAACP, which celebrated its 100th birthday last year. Started by an interracial group as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the NAACP is involved this month in marking Black History Month, as is the National Urban League, which turns 100 this year. Edwards, 48, has held numerous civic and volunteer positions, including vice president of the Elwood Board of Education and chairwoman of the Town of Huntington’s planning board. She is a vice president at Verizon, where she manages more than 5,000 employees. She began there in 1979 as a telephone operator after graduating from John H. Glenn High School in Elwood. As regional NAACP director, Edwards has 11 district presidents in Nassau and Suffolk counties reporting to her. She and her husband Walter live in Dix Hills. They have three children and one grandson.

What are the NAACP’s activities on Long Island? What are the current concerns? As far as we’ve come in America and as far as we’ve come on Long Island, we’re still making sure there’s fairness and equity. We’re concerned about health care and telling our legislators how we see health care as a civil right. And we’re working on education disparity. This year we will work as a group to get our administrators and school board officials to improve the educational system for minorities and for people in general. We put together a survey and will work in partnership with them to make sure that the educational system is the best for everyone. We still have minorities who are not graduating, who are not taking advanced placement classes. // Are you focusing on certain districts? When we get back the information from the survey in February, then we will decide which ones to focus on. // Are there other major programs this year? In February we’re going to be hitting the streets, making sure that the community understands how important it is to participate in the census, which kicks off in March. // Why is it important? There’s about $400 billion of federal funding each year spent on infrastructure and services.

That’s hospitals, job training centers, senior citizen services and the infrastructure for bridges and roads—that’s jobs for us—and emergency services. That is so critical for the minority community, so we have to participate and fill out the census forms, so dollars can come to people of color and to Long Island. // Though the NAACP was initially intended for African Americans, has that broadened? Oh yes. We want to make sure that everyone, every ethnicity, is treated fairly. We have active members of all races on Long Island. // Now that Barack Obama is president, will there be a different tone to Black History Month? Have things changed? I think that on a national level, things have changed. It’s a wonderful thing, that we could have an African American president. I think it speaks for us as a country on how much we have grown. But also, as great as that is, on a local level there’s still a lot of work to do. There’s still a lot of homelessness. There are still a lot of people without jobs. There are still people without health care. There are still people who have complaints that they’re treated unfairly by the police department. We can’t just stop because now we have an African American president. Our work continues. // You attended the inauguration. What are your thoughts on that now? It was very exciting, I was able to go there with my daughter and my grandchild, and it was a very humbling experience, to be in the midst of history in the making. And it does have a very special meaning for African Americans. I would never have believed that would have occurred in my lifetime, but it did, and that is just an awesome, unbelievable, indescribable feeling. // What is your inspiration for all the volunteer work that you do? My parents were community volunteers as well. They were very active and believed in giving back. We happened to be very fortunate as a family, but we were always reminded that one of your responsibilities is to serve. I learned that at a very early age. My first volunteer experience was as a candy striper at Huntington Hospital. // Did the idea come from religious conviction? No, it was a family obligation that my parents believed in very strongly. My mother is still active in the Huntington Enrichment Center. She is also the Huntington branch president of the NAACP right now. It’s funny that my mother reports to me. // How does she like that? It depends on the issue. (Laughs hard.) She has a very strong opinion.

That’s her special thing. // You started at Verizon as a summer-hire operator? Yes, it was a temporary job. I had just graduated high school. I was made permanent, and went on from there. I’m still working on a college degree. Verizon really has given me the opportunity to continue to learn. My college degree is more a personal goal. As vice president, I have the team that installs and maintains the fiber optic network in Long Island, Westchester and upstate New York. // Do you understand the technology? Absolutely. I am a computer programmer as well. I can install a fiber optic network. Not as well as my people, though. I would never ask my people to do anything I can’t do.

aileen jacobson

Aileen Jacobson writes about the arts for the New York Times and other publications. A former arts and media writer for Newsday, she is also the author of two books.