Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown challenged Richmond’s African American youth to believe in their potential and older members in the community to serve as mentors at a Wednesday breakfast organized by the nonprofit For Richmond.
Brown implored an enthusiastic crowd of more than 200 to help Richmond’s youngest residents achieve their goals – much like his own mentors helped him rise from humble Texas beginnings to serve as San Francisco’s first African American mayor.
“There are no limits,” Brown said. “There are literally no limits beyond which you cannot go.”
Brown said when For Richmond executive director Kyra Worthy invited him to speak in Richmond, he “eagerly” accepted.
“I have the perspective that Richmond for so long has been in the forefront of electing African Americans to public office,” he said, adding he’d like to see more African Americans take office.
But unlocking potential cannot be achieved in a vacuum, he said, and young people need the motivation, assistance and encouragement to keep going – much like he received. He recounted his inspiring story of starting out as a graduate of Mineola Colored High School in 1951 – a separate but “inherently unequal” high school in south east Texas – and being sent off to California to live with his uncle, Itsy.
Brown said he was clueless when he first arrived in San Francisco at the age of 17. Had it not been for trial and error and the encouragement of his white and black mentors, he might not have graduated from San Francisco State University, UC Hastings, served in the State Assembly from 1964 to 1995, or gotten elected mayor.
Brown mused about his own untapped potential had he not started at the bottom. “You might be talking to President Willie Brown instead of Obama,” he joked.
Resident Abdul Black, 17 and a senior at El Cerrito High, said the speech was an inspiration.
“Willie Brown started out at the same place I’m in,” said Black, who will attend Dillard College next fall on a scholarship. “What touched me the most is that Brown had to go out and work for his success. That’s how my life has been, and it brought the realization that I can be anything I want to be.”
City Councilman Jael Myrick said Brown’s insights resonated with his own mission to mentor and encourage youth to excel.
“Everybody needs to spread that message because it’s what we need to be doing here in Richmond,” Myrick said. “That’s how we’ll develop a leadership that is lasting and sustainable.”