James Shelby

Q&A: James Shelby sets goals in return to Greater Sacramento Urban League

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 9, 2013 - 1:15 pm | Page 1B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jul. 9, 2013 - 1:29 pm

James Shelby has made a comeback at the Greater Sacramento Urban League, returning as president and CEO of the 45-year-old job-training agency.

Shelby replaced David DeLuz, who resigned May 13 after four years. The agency has been struggling with fund-raising and is battling to stay afloat.

A Vietnam veteran, Shelby, 67, brings a broad range of experience and connections to the job he previously held from 1991 to 2009. He served on the Citrus Heights City Council from 1996 to 2010, including three terms as mayor.

Shelby previously had built the Greater Sacramento Urban League into a $2.2 million-a-year training center that put about 350 people to work and got 50 off welfare annually.

Like Jerry Brown, you've staged an improbable comeback. Why now?

I was in mothballs. I guess I was resurrected. In April 2010, Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed me the first African American to the California Gambling Control Commission. I was probably a little too aggressive: My primary goal (on the commission) was to make African Americans and other minority communities aware of jobs and contracting opportunities. So I took my retirement and moved to a golf community in Placer County.

I was asked to come back to the Urban League for two to three years to help stabilize the organization. The budget's down to around $1.1 million, and the number of board members has gone from 25 to 12.

What is your first order of business?

How we can have an impact on the high school dropout rate in our region, which is about 21.3 percent for African American youths and 17.1 percent for Latinos, according to the California Department of Education.

It's not just dropping out. We have a high expulsion rate. We need to look at the policies Los Angeles has adopted – they're not expelling kids from school for wearing a cap or being disruptive. Some of these things should be worked out with the parent and student.

I don't think school districts really look out into the community to help with some of the challenged youth. We have a better understanding of youth than they do.

What kind of successes are you looking to repeat?

From 1995 to 2000, the Urban League had an agreement with the County Office of Education to recruit 100 dropouts a year from continuation schools. We helped get them GEDs, and successfully put 250 former drop-outs into community college, job training or the military. But we don't have the funding to replace that program because we no longer have U.S. Department of Labor grants.

We have received a grant for $476,000 for adult training next year.

What challenges do you face this summer?

There are still employment disparities between black and white America. African American unemployment's 13 percent. We used to be able to get a local grocery store to hire low- or moderate-income kids if the federal government reimbursed their wages.

Summer youth money has pretty much gone away. Maybe the state should pass a law to help us partner with unemployed kids. The challenge comes when you graduate and you're a white kid, your chances of having connectivity in the employment community through your father, mother or uncle or someone who owns a business is greater than in the African American community.

How do you prepare people for jobs?

We are serving more individuals with degrees and long-term working history than we have before. We're currently training people for administrative, custodial and entry level IT jobs such as PC technicians.

We have programs on teen pregnancy prevention and offer classes on how to write résumés, find jobs and get off welfare.

We have a $300,000 grant from Wal-Mart with the National Urban League to do training for at-risk 18- to 24-year-olds. Starting July 1, we have a grant from from Sacramento Employment and Training Agency to help 150 long-term unemployed facing multiple barriers.

Where are new jobs coming from?

With the development of a downtown arena, the Urban League is asking that 40 percent of the arena workforce comes from distressed communities. We're going to need sales people, waitresses, construction workers and a whole host of customer service people. Those service jobs can get you through community college, but we have to train people. Mayor (Kevin) Johnson's said he's open to that. I'm looking forward to meeting the new owners of the Kings and let them know we're here to be a resource.

How can a person make a difference?

People need to participate in their communities. I got here in 1970 with my Army uniform and a couple of bell-bottoms, not knowing anybody. So I joined a church and ran for the Rio Linda school board in 1976 wearing a dashiki. I came in seventh, then won a spot on the Citrus Heights parks district, then the fire district and later the county Planning Commission. When I got on the Citrus Heights City Council, I knew public policy.

Anyone interested in job training must attend the Urban League's Wednesday orientations and meet with a case manager to determine eligibility. Call (916) 286-8600 or go to 3725 Marysville Blvd.

Q&A Call The Bee's Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072.

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