By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
On June 19, the Virginia Beach NAACP and other organizations joined Hampton Roads’ celebration of Juneteenth on 24th Street at the city’s Beachfront.
By 11 a.m., as the heat was rising, so was the number of celebrants joining those who arrived earlier.
One of the hosts for the event was Rev. (Dr.) Eric Majette, the President of the Virginia Beach Branch of the NAACP.
Majette was elected the new President of the group in January. He said he has a new leadership team that is seeking to give new energy to the organization’s legacy of fighting for civil rights and economic equity in the state’s largest and one of the most diverse cities.
Majette was born in Franklin, received a degree in Marketing from Norfolk State University, and he spent several decades traveling the nation and globe working for Xerox.
Today, he is a realtor and just recently started a Bus Transportation Company.
He also pastors the New Life Baptist Church in Franklin, a congregation he helped to revive and build its attendance.
Majette said this year’s Juneteenth Celebration is an example of the Virginia Beach NAACP’s effort to reach out to the community. Also, it served to highlight its activist legacy as an important civic and community institution.
Before being elected President, Majette was chair of the Virginia Beach NAACP’s Economic Development Committee and then 1st Vice President.
So, he is keenly aware of the issues and the challenges that the poor and people of color face in a city seeking to change its image as not being welcome to either.
Majette said he receives complaints about employment discrimination or policing issues each day. He said the issue of the high rate of Black students being suspended from the city’s public schools, as young as six years old, is another concern.
In the spring of 2021, Donovan Lynch, a Black man, was shot by a Black Virginia Beach Police Officer during a chaotic incident near the Beachfront.
Majette said more needs to be done to train officers in deescalating tense encounters, decision-making, and treatment of Black citizens.
Lynch’s family won a $3 million settlement in a suit against the city.
“That incident broke my heart because Donovan was part of my family,” said Majette, 60. “He would come to my house and eat Cheerios. We need a change in policy to deter these incidents from happening again.”
Although it has no investigative power now, the NAACP, according to Majette, supports the city’s Citizens Review Board monitoring police activities and policy.
Minority participation in the city’s procurement system is a key issue for Majette. The city several years ago, completed a “Disparity Study” to determine the level of Small Minority and Women (SWAM) business participation in bidding for contracts to provide goods and services to the city and big dollar development projects.
Majette said the NAACP and other civic leaders prodded the city to expand its procurement program.
He said that Black entrepreneurs must “get ready” by being SWAM-certified, registered with the city and the state, and meeting financial requirements to be able to compete.
The recent Something in the Water (SITW) Music Festival was kickoffed by the NAACP’s Leadership Breakfast it hosted in late April.
SITW was reinvigorated when Virginia Beach-born Artist/ Entrepreneur Pharrell Williams brought it back to the Beachfront after he pulled out due to the city’s inadequate investigation of his cousin Donovan Lynch’s shooting.
The 2023 SITW turnout was weakened by rain, but Majette said that its return is an example of how Virginia Beach is seeking to lighten its image as a locale not welcoming to Black people.
Majette said SITW was a result of an effort by him and other Black leaders working with city leaders to be more accommodating to the Black college students converging on the city’s beaches in the spring.
He said the image of Virginia Beach was hurt due to the 1988 Greekfest violence involving thousands of Black students who were partying at the beach during that Labor Day weekend.
The lack of structured activities and little communal input from the city were among causes for the chaos that Labor Day weekend.
Majette, who was a newly minted member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, remembers the time.
“A lot of people believed Virginia Beach did not want Black people down there,” said Majette. “Students would come to Virginia Beach with money and wanted to party but there was no entertainment to deter misbehavior.”
Majette said he was part of a task force put in place several years ago to get input from local college students and the community on how to avoid the mistakes of 1988.
Pharrell’s SITW showcased local and national music artists, and other activities, which Majette said are the byproducts of that task force’s work and “has been a shot in the arm economically for the city.”
Virginia Beach civic, faith, and NAACP leadership are keeping an eye on any effort by the city to weaken the current 10-1 district-based system of electing City Council.
The Holloway vs. The City of Virginia Beach suit prompted the federal court to abolish the city’s hybrid boroughs/at the large system.
The court declared the old system denied Black residents from electing council members of their choice.
Today, for the first time in Virginia Beach history four Black residents sit on council.
The city conducted a survey to determine voter opinion of the new system. It and the Black community, including the NAACP, have held town halls seeking to garner feedback and to educate people about the new election format. But the city has yet to submit a bill to the General Assembly to codify the new plan by changing the city’s charter noting the change.
Majette said the new system, not only attributed to this historic first number of Blacks on council; but also, allows voters to know their council representative and reduces the cost of running for a seat.
Running in an at-large seat was more expensive because a candidate had to campaign city-wide as opposed to one district.
“We want to carry forth the proud legacy of the city’s NAACP,” said Majette. “We are trying to be involved in fighting for equality of rights of all people in this city.”
“We have many important issues to address,” he continued. “We are trying to bring in new members, especially young people to retool and revive the organization. We believe that anything that does not grow dies.”