Q&A: Sacramento’s NAACP branch gets new president

Stephen T. Webb, a businessman and community activist with roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, has taken over as president of the Sacramento branch of the NAACP. Webb, 62, inherits a branch struggling to stay open. As of Thursday, the office phone was out of order.

Webb said he aims to professionalize the office and to raise money to bolster the bare-bones operation.

Webb ascended to the presidency of the 98-year-old branch last month with the sudden resignation of Tyrone Netters, who cited the demands of his new job. All branch presidents are volunteers.

“It’s an enormous time commitment, about three hours on a daily basis,” Netters said, adding that the branch does advocacy work from Fairfield to the Nevada border, and from San Joaquin County to Yuba City/Marysville.

Webb became housing chairman for the NAACP Sacramento branch in 2005. He lists his occupation as Realtor/Consultant/Realtist with experience in property management, trust, probate, short sales and residential property.

Webb moved to Sacramento in 1970 from Dayton, Ohio, with his mother and brother after his mother landed a job as operations supervisor at McClellan Air Force Base.

“We drove out in a 1969 antique gold Pontiac Grand Prix with a half Landau roof – I loved that car,” Webb recalled. He attended American River College; California State University, Sacramento, and UC Davis, graduating with a degree in political science.

Your voice mail declares: “You may not be able to adjust the way the wind will blow, but you can adjust yourself.” How will this philosophy shape the NAACP?

That’s a strong motto of mine. I used to do an hourlong radio show, “Motivation Through Your Excellence,” from 1994 to 1996. We wanted to give you something inspirational on your drive home, despite how your day was.

This job is a great honor – look at the legacy of the NAACP through all the people who came before me, and the 105-year tradition of what they accomplished, W.E.B. Dubois, Rosa Parks, Roy Wilkins, Harry Belafonte. I have some work to do to get the branch back in the right direction so people of all colors can get help with housing, employment and civil rights. But if we do not have a viable source of funds and donations, you cannot survive on rhetoric alone.

What’s your game plan?

I’ve established a new branch phone number, (916) 856-0155 and am working on getting someone to volunteer consistently at our office at 816 H St. I’m going to be there at least three days a week.

I’m going to have a phone jam, starting with a list of everyone who is or was a member. We probably have 100 active members, but at least 200 on the books. We’ll call all those numbers and get them into a viable, reliable database so we can inform them about our meetings on the second Saturday of the month. We have to communicate better and run this office like a functioning business entity.

If you get our voice mail, you will get a call back within 24 hours. We will have somebody in the office from 10 to 2 three days a week. We’ll also post those hours when our legal redress attorney will be available. I want those things in place, including an updated website, in the next 30 days. We have to find a way to reach out to community resources to let folks know we are alive and kicking. I chaired our annual prayer breakfast on April 18, and we got approximately 300 folks, including the police and Sheriff’s Department.

Whom will you serve?

From the beginning, we have taken all who come to us for help, no matter what your color, race or origin. We’ve always been at the forefront for African Americans, who have been most affected by injustice and inequality. But we have a multiracial community now, and it has been that way for quite a while. I was just at a meeting with representatives from UC Davis, CSUS, UC Berkeley and Hmong, Hispanic and Caucasian leaders to deal with depression on college campuses. We have to have viable resources for students who need to talk to someone.

Tell us about your job history.

I’ve been working as long as I can remember, from raking leaves to shoveling snow and working at my uncle’s restaurant, the Frying Pan, serving everything from ice cream to fried smelt. In Sacramento, I worked at the McDonald’s on Florin Road for a couple of years, from trainee to fry guy to grill guy. If you worked hard, you were rewarded with either a pay increase or a promotion.

I felt these were the stepping stones to my success. I was also a ‘gutter flooder buster’ during Sacramento’s drought in the early ’70s. After working as courtesy clerk in a supermarket, I got a job with the state Employment Development Department, doing outreach in Del Paso Heights from 1972 to 1976. Before becoming a Realtor, I worked for Unocal as a management trainee and retail and commercial sales rep.

When did the NAACP get on your radar?

Back in Dayton, Ohio, my family was very active in the struggle for fair housing and employment. My dad was one of the first two African Americans to become an assistant manager at a major grocery chain. In 1966, I’ll never forget when my mother was looking for a piece of property in one of the suburbs with my aunt, brother, my cousin and myself in the car, and the seller said, ‘We do not sell houses to the N-word.’ When Uncle Bobby was having problems starting a carwash, he called the NAACP. By the time I was 13, I was marching for equal rights.

The NAACP served as the foundation of other organizations, such as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. In the 1970s, I was very into the movement. We were selling posters in front of the Palladium in Los Angeles to raise money for Jesse Jackson and Angela Davis. My uncle and I had a permit, but an LAPD officer confronted us verbally and tried to kick me in my behind. I swung at him, but my uncle caught my arm.

Today in Sacramento, we do have a legal redress process. If somebody fills out a complaint saying they’ve been the victim of police brutality or were wrongfully jailed, I will contact our chaplain, David Clements, to investigate and our lawyer, Peter Brixie, to see if the person’s rights have been violated. Then we will speak to the law enforcement agency.

How else can the NAACP help those in need?

I became the housing chair during the height of the recession in 2005, and we held four seminars a year on tenant rights, different avenues people had to save their homes from foreclosure and how to buy homes. We served well over 1,000 people.

The problem is the branch is a nonprofit that needs $20,000 to $25,000 to pay rent, utilities and to get someone to answer the phone. Right now, I’m the one answering the phone.

Clippers owner Donald Sterling was to be honored by the Los Angeles NAACP because he donated to scholarships and charities and invited black children to summer camp. What’s your reaction to Sterling’s relationship to the NAACP, which honored him in 2009?

You have an owner saying he has a problem with blacks, and we cannot tolerate this in society. We have enough problems as it is with access to education and jobs. The NAACP does give awards to those who donate and do things in the community. But here (in Sacramento) we look carefully at the folks who donate to us, and hopefully we won’t have an issue, because I don’t want to take money from someone who is racist. All money is not good money.