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Norwich NAACP's new president has 'really big shoes to fill'

Norwich — At 5 feet, 10 inches tall without her high heels, Dianne Daniels physically would tower above petite 30-year Norwich NAACP branch President Jacqueline Owens, and Daniels' booming voice would easily drown out Owens' soft-spoken words.

But as Daniels succeeds Owens as the Norwich NAACP branch president, she wants everyone in the greater Norwich area to know that she won't pretend to measure up to Owens' stature.

“I am not Jackie Owens,” Daniels said slowly for emphasis. “As tiny a lady as she is, she's got some really big shoes to fill.”

Daniels, 53, of Norwich was elected as Norwich branch president Thursday, along with a slate of officers who faced no opposition, with a ringing endorsement from Owens. Daniels will begin her two-year term Dec. 15 during an installation of officers meeting. Along with Daniels, Barbara Billups was elected branch secretary, Karen Cook as assistant secretary, Patrice David as treasurer, and Vouice Fonville as assistant treasurer.

Daniels called the election “one of the biggest honors of my life.”

“I think Dianne will do very well,” Owens said prior to Thursday's vote. “She's been with the NAACP a number of years. I've worked with her, so I know she will do well. She knows that I will vote for her. I think she will be a great president.”

Owens, a longtime Lebanon resident, will remain active in the Norwich branch as immediate past president, but said she would not serve on the executive board. She spent part of the past week consulting with people in Willimantic to help get an NAACP branch going in that town. But, she told organizers, she will not serve on their board or seek office there.

“I'm so glad she will be around for me to bounce ideas off of,” Daniels said of Owens.

Like many in the Norwich community, Daniels refers to Owens as “Mother Owens,” an honorific title bestowed upon respected elders in traditionally black church congregations.

Daniels grew up in Detroit, where her parents, Charles and Katherine Morton, paid for NAACP memberships for her and her three siblings. “I was so proud to have that little membership card,” Daniels said. When they turned 18, her parents told them they would be responsible for paying their own memberships.

Daniels did, and when she moved to Norwich in 1997, she joined the local chapter, met Owens and became active in the organization and in the Norwich community. She worked for a time as information technology director for the city of Norwich.

Currently, Daniels is the Democratic registrar of voters, a member of the Democratic Town Committee and is president of the management board of the Norwich Unitarian Universalist Church, which meets across from City Hall at the United Congregational Church.

Daniels said all of her endeavors share the goals of promoting human rights, equality and civil rights.

The national award-winning Norwich NAACP branch has about 100 active members and a strong youth council named for the late Robertsine Duncan, Owens' best friend. The branch routinely sends several youths per year to the national Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics each summer.

Daniels hopes to continue that trend in July 2017, when the ACT-SO national championships will be held in Baltimore.

Locally, Daniels has a head start on her goal of retaining the strong relationship the Norwich NAACP has with city, school and police leaders. Daniels already knows Mayor Deberey Hinchey and police Chief Patrick Daley, and the chairman of the Norwich Board of Education is her husband, Aaron “Al” Daniels — a Republican and member of the Norwich Republican Town Committee.

But Daniels said she plans to meet with various city leaders to discuss their concerns and to stress that she hopes to retain the good relations and lines of communication.

“I don't want to take those relations for granted,” Daniels said. “It's easy to lose what made it so good if we don't pay attention to it.”

Police Chief Daley said he worked with Daniels several years ago when she was IT director and most recently coordinating security for polling places during the Nov. 8 election.

“She's always been very good to work with,” Daley said. “A consummate professional. I'm looking forward to continuing the relationship. I wish her well.”

Daniels does have one new advocacy goal for NAACP in the coming two years. Daniels lost all three of her siblings at young ages: a brother and a sister to heart attacks and another brother to complications from a reaction to medication.

“So health will be one of my goals going forward,” she said. “To get people to pay attention to their health.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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