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Public Affairs

Willie Brown leadership center launched

November 8, 2007

Willie Brown smiles at the cameraIn the early 1950s a young Willie Brown Jr. left his hometown, Mineola, Texas, to pursue an education at San Francisco State. He didn't come from money; he didn't have political connections, but he went on to become one of the most influential California politicians in the late 20th century.

During Brown's tenure as assemblyman, speaker of the State Assembly, and mayor of San Francisco, the 1955 political science graduate never forgot his training ground. "My heart and soul have never left SF State," he says. "Once here, I was never the same: doors were opened, relationships established, confidence gained."

Today he is opening doors for the next generation of public servants through the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center at SF State. It is the first program at a major university to focus on mentoring and developing political leadership at the local and regional level.

Located at SF State's main campus, the Brown Center will focus initially on placing and mentoring 40 upper-division students in public sector positions. The Brown Internship Program will introduce America's future leaders to how local governments function, expose them to meaningful careers in public service and bring their talent and energy to bear addressing the challenges faced by local governments.

"Excellence should be government's goal," says the center's Executive Director Steve Kawa, a longtime aide to Brown. "We want to highlight public service as a noble endeavor." He looks forward to helping shape the center's activities to benefit both students and the community at large. "The Brown Center will become a prototype for training future leaders on how to tackle some of our nation's most challenging problems -- education, public safety, housing, transportation, economic development and public health -- at the level where individuals can have maximum impact."

Recognizing that it is often financially prohibitive for students to take advantage of the valuable professional contacts and experience gained through an internship, the Brown Center will also provide outreach and financial assistance to economically disadvantaged students interested in public leadership.

Helping students get a foot in the political door early on is critical to their success, Kawa adds. "There's no such thing as certainty but an internship comes pretty close to saying that you will have a career in public service."

In addition to creating opportunities for students to work closely with politicians and policymakers, the center will bring political leaders, media analysts and other commentators to campus to discuss and debate the issues of the day. The Brown Speaker Series will focus on the 2008 local, state and national elections. Brown himself will offer his expertise as an adjunct faculty member, teaching classes and meeting with students, faculty and the campus community.

"Willie Brown is an outstanding alumnus of SF State, and we are honored that he will lend his expertise and energy to preparing the next generation of local political leaders," President Robert A. Corrigan said. "Mayor Brown has spent his entire career advocating for social, economic and education inclusion. His knowledge of government and how it works provides a practical, real-world complement to SF State's strong academic curriculum, and to our core values of equity and social justice."

As part of this major, new initiative, students will have access to a generous gift from Brown: his large and diverse collection of artifacts, videotapes and state legislative papers compiled during his 40-year history in public service. The Willie L. Brown Jr. Archives will be housed in the J. Paul Leonard Library. The gift significantly expands SF State's renowned collection of textual, visual and aural California political and labor history.

Professor Joel Kassiola, dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, is among the many faculty who are excited to collaborate on the development of the center. "Brown has stood for advancing social justice and making a difference through a career in public life and public-policy making," he says. "We hope by creating the Willie Brown Center to encourage and empower current students to pursue careers in public life, work toward social justice and make people's lives better -- just as former Mayor and Speaker Brown has done."

For more information, visit the Web site of the Willie L. Brown, Jr., Leadership Center.

-- Adrianne Bee


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Last modified November 9, 2007 by University Communications