Donald Byrd III, the new president of the Bayonne branch of the NAACP, talked with the Bayonne Community News about the organization’s plans for 2021.
Meet Donald Byrd III
Byrd, a Bayonne native, grew up in the city. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Massachusetts, where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in economics and a Master’s degree in regional planning. He then returned to the area, living in Jersey City and commuting to New York City to work for the Department of Education.
Byrd’s trajectory started as a high school teacher, shifting from teaching physical education to social studies before becoming a dean. He ultimately ended his career in education as an assistant principal.
Following that, Byrd launched the Donald Byrd Cultural Foundation in 2015, in honor of his father and grandfather. Donald Byrd II, who died in 2013, was a world-renowned jazz trumpeter.
Byrd II was also an educator, with a doctorate from the Teachers College at Columbia University. Byrd III was so inspired by his father’s career as an educator that he became one himself.
Taking the reins
Byrd has been heavily involved in the community since moving back to Bayonne. He’d always been active in prominent local churches through his mother’s side of the family, including Wallace Temple AME Zion Church and Friendship Baptist Church.
Byrd was also an active member of the local NAACP prior to his election. He had worked with the city and the Bayonne NAACP in 2020 as part of a Black History Month tribute to his father and others.
Elected president in January, Byrd said “It’s an honor coming from Bayonne and getting a chance to work with those that I had admired, knowing the rich legacy behind the NAACP in terms of people that I respected growing up.”
Byrd hopes to apply his skills as an educator to Bayonne.
Working with officials
Byrd looks forward to working with the city and the school board, especially in special education. He and his wife both have experience working in schools with a large special education population in New York City and are willing to help in any way possible.
Byrd said he and his wife have vast experience with youth, youth development, and special education. He said he’s also equipped to foster diversity and equity.
“This is a very critical time, in light of all the racism that has been happening and has been really tearing the fabric of this country down,” Byrd said.
He looks forward to continuing his work with the city on behalf of people of color. He noted that he has already spoken to Board of Education President Maria Valado and Trustee David Watson, a NAACP member, about collaborating with the school board.
“It’s a blessing getting a chance to come home and bring what I’ve learned back to Bayonne,” Byrd said.
A fan of Mayor James Davis’s administration, Byrd said, “I enjoyed coming back to Bayonne because I see the development that Mayor James Davis is on top of. I like seeing the way Bayonne is being built up.”
Byrd said he sees a lot of diversity coming into the city occurring simultaneously with the boom in development.
“It appears to me that I’m seeing more people of color, especially where I’m living,” Byrd said.
According to Byrd, the NAACP aims to serve all people of color, and he wants to tap into the new population of people of color moving into Bayonne and provide any needed services.
One of Byrd’s first initiatives as president will be to honor the educators in the Bayonne NAACP, many of whom have Master’s degrees.
“A lot of the members have been educators, both past and present,” Byrd said. “Its just amazing how, when I look at those numbers, educators that make up the majority and have made up the majority of the membership over the last couple of years.”
Byrd said there is a rich history of educators of color working for the city of Bayonne. He hopes not only to inspire more young people of color to become educators but also to honor those who paved the way.
“It was what we were supposed to do,” Byrd, a Baby Boomer, said about him and other people of color becoming educators back in the day. Byrd said he and other members of his generation went to school to serve the public. “A lot of us then became members of the NAACP, furthering that mission,” he said.
Diversifying the police department
Another initiative the Bayonne NAACP is working on involves diversity in the police department. Byrd said he has been working with Sergeant Steven Rhodes to recruit more police officers of color.
Byrd has also had many “fruitful” conversations with Chief of Police Robert Geisler. He said Geisler was “extremely supportive” of reaching out to people of color and has zero tolerance for “any type of racial discord.”
Byrd has an open door policy and can be reached at the Donald Byrd Cultural Foundation at 201-988-3366.
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