By John Mayo
It’s not easy to campaign for a school board seat while juggling classes and work, but NSU’s Tyron Riddick readily met the challenge.
Riddick, 28, was successful in his first-time bid for the Suffolk School Board when he ousted former school board member Thelma Hinton by gaining 57 percent of the vote from constituents in the race for the Suffolk Borough. Riddick finished the November 2018 election with more than 650 votes more than Hinton.
Riddick, a Suffolk native, enrolled at NSU in 2012. After winning his school board seat, he is taking a semester off from his studies to focus on his new role, he said. The married father of two girls, ages 14 and 10 months, says he plans to complete his final semester at NSU next fall. He is a business management major.
While new to politics, Riddick is accustomed to being a leader. A 2009 graduate of King’s Fork High School, Riddick served as vice president of the Future Business Leaders of America’s Tidewater chapter. The organization helps young people create businesses through marketing, leadership and teambuilding skills.
“I am excited and I am humbled at the same time that the Suffolkians have deemed me worthy enough to serve as their School Board member,” Riddick told the Suffolk News-Herald after winning. “I’m excited to work with the School Board, Ms. Mayo, Ms. Story and Ms. Jenkins to move Suffolk forward. I think we have a good team.”
After graduating from high school, Riddick became chairman of the City of Suffolk’s Youth Advisor Council, a youth advocacy organization. His interest in working with youth led Riddick to create his the nonprofit organization, Straighten Up, Fly Right
Riddick describes the program as a outlet for children “who have no hope.” One young man whom he mentored through the program encouraged Riddick to seek a seat on the school board. He believed that Riddick could help provide support for some high school programs that were in jeopardy.
Riddick says he that while he initially resisted running, his young mentee challenged him
“Why not? Are you afraid,” the youth asked Riddick.
Riddick then told the young man that if he would help him get signatures, he would run.
“The children helped me with my campaign,” Riddick said.
Along the way, others helped as well. After campaigning in some areas where residents came to their doors with “cameras and guns” aimed at him, Riddick sought the help of a former Suffolk schools official who walked with him door to door in the Borough area.
In a recent interview, Riddick was most appreciative for “God and my parents,” who supported him not only during the election, but years ago when he was a single father, attending college and driving a school bus to support his then 5-year-old daughter.
“I was a baby trying to raise a baby,” Riddick recalled.
Someone else who has played a pivotal part of Riddick’s personal and professional life is NSU English professor Mamie Johnson, he said.
“Dr. Johnson helped me by exposing me to books by W.E.B. DuBois and Frederick Douglass that I was never exposed to,” he said. “I didn’t know how to prioritize my schedule. She teaches with a rare style of empowering you to be a black male. She challenged and inspired me to do better.”
Riddick said he plans to use his school board position to improve student-learning environments, support raises for faculty and staff and help end the “school-to-prison” pipeline in Suffolk.
A better learning environment creates more productive students, he says. “These students will grow up to be productive citizens. These citizens will take the knowledge and character they have built in school to make the world a better place.”
Just as he was challenged – and rose to victory — Riddick challenges his NSU classmates to do the same, adding that they should be serious about their studies and mindful of the debt many of them will face upon graduation.
“It is too costly to acquire all this (student loans) debt,” he said. “Stop wasting time. Be a better you today than you were yesterday and this will ensure a better tomorrow.”
Spartan Echo staff provided additional reporting and editing for this article.