Brackenridge woman, long-time NAACP member, believes in giving back
From the time she was 17 to today, at 75, Aarie Holt-Scruggs has been a member of the Alle-Kiski NAACP chapter. In that time, she's helped revive it, served as its president for several years and headed up a committee that has provided more than 150 scholarships to local students in memory of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
For the Brackenridge resident, who still heads up committees for scholarships and the NAACP's memorial service for King, giving back is about honoring the civil rights leader's memory and showing gratitude.
“He was a great man,” she said. “I feel very humble to be involved, and God has been good to my family.”
Since the scholarship program's inception nearly 50 years ago, about 160 students, hailing from all around the Alle-Kiski Valley, have received support. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People partnered with Highlands CAC Youth until 2001 to provide the scholarships. It now partners with the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches.
The mother, grandmother and resident of Brackenridge since she was a small child, Holt-Scruggs has personally experienced some of the changes the local NAACP has helped to bring about, such as ending segregation at stores and restaurants in the 1950s and 1960s.
“We couldn't even skate at the roller rink,” she said. “I recall all that quite well.
“There was a time when African-Americans could not sit at the counter at the 5 & 10, and the NAACP had a hand in seeing that we could sit where we wanted.”
The NAACP, said Holt-Scruggs, has a message that is still relevant today and a mission that reaches out to many.
“When I was president, I got calls from people who were not African Americans who felt they needed an advocate,” she said.
“There are some great things that have come about through the NAACP, and it should be known that the NAACP is not just for blacks. The NAACP is for equality for all races, all the downtrodden.”
Since retiring from Alcoa Technical Center in Upper Burrell in the late '90s, Holt-Scruggs has devoted more of her time to not only the NAACP's programs, but also those at her church. She's been a member of Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in New Kensington for 40 years and has played music there for just as long.
Now the church's minister of music, she remains involved with its children's choir, participating in activities like field trips with its members.
She has also been active with Black History Month, held for more than a decade, in the Allegheny-Kiski Valley Heritage Museum. She played the piano during this year's program, which was held on Sunday.
“I call her the maestro,” said program organizer Loretta Howell. “She is a true talent and uses that talent to not only praise God, but to help friends and neighbors.”
For Holt-Scruggs, it seems, the key to helping others is simple: “I think everybody should accept people as they are.
“Everybody's different. But if you accept people as they are, you're happier, and they're happier,” she said. “And we're all God's creatures. All of us.”
Julie E. Martin is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.