Cedric P. Holmes: On BoardLast Edited: Sep 13, 2018 8:00 AM -04:00
School board member Cedric Holmes, 21, possesses a quiet maturity.
VINELAND, NJ — Cedric P. Holmes made history last year as the youngest person ever to sit on the Vineland Board of Education. At 20, he was appointed to the position last April.
Holmes followed that up by being elected to the seat for a full three-year term in November. One would think that was a nice break for a kid two-years removed from Vineland High School—until you learn that he actually ran for a seat two other times, once while he was still a student.
Persistence and determination have become synonymous with Holmes, now 21 and a year into experience on the board. Holmes, the administrative assistant at influential Union Baptist Temple in Bridgeton, said he does not want to concentrate on the history-making fact of his presence on the school board, but rather what he is there for.
“I don’t even see it like that,” Holmes, the lone African-American on the nine-member board, said in a recent interview. “Yes, I’m the youngest school board member, but where do I go from here? Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? Am I reaching somebody? I hope young people take from this that you don’t have be 40, 50 or 60-years-old to be in this position and try to make a positive impact in your community.”
School board work can be a grinding job, mired in policy and procedure, complaints from parents, and juggling acts to balance the taxpayers’ funded budget with dwindling resources. Holmes said he entered the job with his eyes wide open.
“The experience has been awesome,” Holmes said, speaking the confidence of someone much older. “People say it’s a lot of work and that it’s a thankless job—and it is. But I always keep in mind the students. I get more satisfaction visiting the schools and talking with students and teachers every day.… I make it my business to be seen by the people who elected me and the students who I’m making the decisions for.”
What Holmes lacks in experience, he makes up for in enthusiasm and his connection with the Vineland students. He said he hopes to inspire the young people he meets every day on the Vineland streets, with whom he shares conversations and know him on a first-name basis.
In fact, some students at Vineland High attended school with Holmes when he was a senior, making that connection even closer.
“I think I’ve gained a lot of respect, especially from my peers still in high school,” Holmes said. “They really understand [that] now we have someone whose been here and it hasn’t been 20 or 30 years ago. All of my teachers are there. Now we have somebody who really knows how it’s going inside. Too often, [the school board makes decisions] off what you hear and not really what you see.”
But what do adults think? Holmes said one of the biggest complaints he has received from constituents is that he doesn’t sound off more during school board meetings. He said, though, that is by design.
“A lot of the older people [are] talking just to be heard,” Holmes said. “They talk for five minutes saying the same thing. When I was campaigning, people told me that I don’t talk enough. I told them I’m only going to speak to make an impact.
“If I say a sentence, it’s going to be something important. If I don’t say anything, I’m not going to speak just to get a sound bite or something like that. When I speak, they know I’m serious and mean what I say,” he added.
Lola Holmes, Cedric Holmes’ mother, said her son has sought to make an impact since he was young: “Actually, Cedric has always been like an old soul. He’s always been very mature for his age and very helpful with children.… I could go to him; even though he was 19, 20 years old, he seemed like he was in his 30s in a lot of aspects, in the way he carries himself.”
While millennials have a reputation of being absorbed by social media and the latest smartphone apps, Holmes said he hopes his presence will shed a new light on his age group.
“I hope it not only shows them, but my parents’ generations and their parents’ generation that millennials aren’t just into their cellphones and into ourselves,” Holmes said. “I think when people see us doing something meaningful, they listen.”
Rev. Albert Morgan, pastor of Union Baptist Temple—with a congregation of about 1,500—said he saw that maturity in Holmes when he hired him as his administrative assistant. Holmes schedules church events but also organizes events at the Alms Center, the church’s impressive community center.
“He makes my job easier,” Morgan said. “He has the ability to deal with all different age groups because he has to interact with youth and he deals with the seniors. He’s able to function on both levels. He is a great example of how a young man should function, being dependable, being well-rounded and informative.”
One person who has been missing from Holmes’ accomplishments has been his father, Rev. Cedric B. Holmes, Jr., who died at 45 from cancer, just months before his son was appointed to the school board.
Holmes, Jr., a U.S. Army veteran, played a big part in his son’s life as a father, mentor and in their faith. The elder Holmes was co-pastor and founder of In the Company of Jesus in Vineland before he died.
“I could cry now because I know his father would be so proud of the things he’s been able to accomplish at 21,” Iola Holmes said. “He made sure that faith played a major part of our life. I’m honored to be his mother. These days, you don’t hear anything positive about black boys. I pray that he will continue to follow the path God has him on. The best is yet to come.”
Holmes said that he could feel his father’s presence during his campaign last year for the three-year school board term: “In the spiritual aspect of it, I saw it as him making intercession for me in heaven. I took great solace knowing that he was in a better place. He was campaigning for me up there and making ways for me to make that accomplishment on my birthday [when I was appointed in April].”
Holmes said he does not plan to stop his political career with the school board. He said he can see himself doing one more term before possibly pursuing a spot on Vineland City Council and running for mayor.
“It’s always inspiring to see young adults like Cedric take on leadership positions in the community,” said Vineland Mayor Anthony Fanucci, who Holmes mentioned as one person he shared his aspirations with. “As someone who serves in public office, I am proud to do what I can to encourage and help develop a new generation of civic-minded and service-oriented leaders who can make a measurable difference in our community.
“My message to them is always the same—whether it’s something in their own lives, their family’s lives, or something they feel raises the values of our community—by getting engaged you can make a positive difference.”
Morgan added that he believes Holmes has the drive to achieve his goals: “I think because of his upbringing, coming from a Christian home, it seems like he always wants to do his very best, whatever that may be. Even if he has to work overtime, he doesn’t mind doing it. At our church, the schedule can be very demanding. Keeping people on track and organizational skills, he has all of those qualities.”
At just 21, those qualities have served Holmes well so far.
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