New Norwich NAACP president hopes to usher in youth movement
Norwich — Ariana Woody grew up in the Norwich NAACP branch, one of the innumerable youths mentored by longtime branch matriarch Jacqueline Owens.
But when Woody reached her 20s, something felt funny. She had outgrown the Robertsine Duncan Youth Council, graduated from the state youth and college chapter and felt uncomfortable among the branch adults, her elders of another generation.
So, she dropped out for a while. She married Vidal Woody, who is in the Navy and currently deployed on a submarine.
“Three years ago, I got back into it,” Woody, now 28, said. “It was Mrs. Owens’ doing. When Mother Owens asked you to do something, you didn’t say no.”
Owens retired after 30 years as branch president in 2016 and died in June 2017. Woody’s mother, Dianne Daniels, succeeded Owens as president and Woody was named first vice president.
“When you choose a first vice president, you select someone who can take on the (president’s) post,” Daniels said.
Daniels decided not to run for a second term in fall 2018 to concentrate on her divinity school studies. Woody was elected unanimously as new president, and her term began in January. Her first public event was the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday luncheon Jan. 18 at her alma mater, Norwich Free Academy.
Woody, a 2009 NFA graduate, is taking online courses in communications and sports management at Southern New Hampshire University. She works as an assistant in the city registrars’ office, where her mother is Democratic registrar of voters.
Some of her top goals as president of the NAACP branch, which has won national awards for its activities, are to increase membership and encourage youths and young adults who grow up with it, as she did, to remain active. She also is looking for a first vice president.
Woody wants the entire Norwich community to see the organization as broad and inclusive for people of all ages, races and ethnic backgrounds.
“One of my goals is to get the NAACP name back out there,” Woody said last week at Foundry 66, the shared workspace facility where the Norwich branch has an office. “We have over 50 members. I want to get more people of my generation involved. There is literally something for everyone if you want to get involved.”
The Norwich branch holds monthly meetings at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month at Foundry 66, at 66 Franklin St. in downtown Norwich.
Woody was pleased that local middle school students and the New London County 4-H group participated in the Martin Luther King Jr. luncheon for the first time. The Robertsine Duncan Youth Council meets at 2:30 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month at NFA. Woody plans to reach out to students at Three Rivers Community College to invite them to join the Norwich branch.
The branch remains busy much of the year. The group is gearing up for its annual Sweet Potato Festival from noon to 3 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Rose City Senior Center. With a $25 donation price, the event features a chicken dinner with traditional Southern style side dishes, sweet potato desserts for sale and a free tasting table to try out various sweet potato food and dessert items.
In March, local students will start preparing for local and regional competitions in the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological Scientific Olympics. Local winners will compete in July at the NAACP national convention in Detroit.
That will be a homecoming for Woody and her parents, Dianne and Al Daniels, who moved to Norwich from Detroit soon after Woody was born. The family still visits the Motor City frequently and Woody is excited about another visit for the convention.
But before that will come another Norwich branch signature event: the annual Juneteenth celebration on the third Saturday in June.
Woody will usher in a big change for that event this year. The Juneteenth celebration will be moved from the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park at Norwich Harbor to Franklin Street, to become part of the series of street festivals hosted by Global City Norwich.
“We’re kind of re-inventing that event, as well,” Woody said. “When I was a youth, we packed Brown Park.”
Attendance has dropped in recent years, and Woody hopes to emphasize the jubilant celebration that marks emancipation of slaves in Texas while still including the history of the event and the Norwich NAACP branch.
Woody hopes to add a new NAACP event this year, a sort of meet-and-greet barbecue not yet scheduled.
“I’d really love for more people to join,” she said. “Anyone who has a passion for civil rights, education, housing, criminal justice, jobs, I want you.”