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Image: Photos of SF State alumni and scenes from around campus as featured in the Spring/Summer 2008 SF State Magazine

Campus Beat

One of a Kind

Willie L. Brown Jr.'s successful slogan in the mayoral race is an apt description for a new SF State center that bears his name.


In the early 1950s, a young Willie L. Brown Jr. (B.A., '55) left his hometown of Mineola, Texas, for San Francisco. He promised his mother he would get a job, join a church and go to college. Then an aspiring math teacher, Brown had heard good things about a place called Stanford University.


Willie L. Brown Jr. speaking in front of an audience at the opening of the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center. Photo by Gino de Grandis.

Distinguished alumnus Willie L. Brown Jr. has returned to his alma mater to guide the next generation of leaders. In April, at the first in an ongoing speaker series sponsored by the new Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center, he told students seeking public service internships, "I want to try to entice you to think not White House ... but to think at the local level ... the real delivery system." — Photo by Gino De Grandis


In his memoir, "Basic Brown" (Simon & Schuster, '08), he writes of his arrival in the city -- before he went on to serve as a California assemblyman, speaker of the State Assembly and mayor of San Francisco: "I was soon on my way to meet one Dr. Duncan Gillies, a professor at San Francisco State College. I told Dr. Gillies about my ambition to study math at Stanford … He listened attentively and put me through some math problems. He gave me the news: I was indeed very bright … but the schooling I had received in Mineola in the segregated schools left me way behind my white peers … Dr. Gillies said that his own school, San Francisco State College, might be willing to take a chance on me. I had to agree to a ten-week trial as a probationary student … But I did well and they accepted me."


At SF State, Brown discovered his true calling. The political science graduate says, "My heart and soul have never left SF State. Once here, I was never the same: doors were opened, relationships established, confidence gained." In November his career came full circle when he helped launch the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center at SF State -- the first program at a major university to focus on mentoring and developing political leadership at the local and regional level.


The center is designed to train future leaders how to deal with such pressing issues as education, public safety, housing, transportation, economic development and public health -- at the local level, where Brown feels individuals can have maximum impact. The center's internship program is placing and mentoring 40 upper-division students in public sector positions while a speaker series is bringing political leaders, media analysts and other commentators to campus to discuss and debate the issues of the day. The major, new initiative also brings Brown's extensive archives to SF State.


The center's Executive Director Steve Kawa, a longtime aide to Brown, says, "A day with Mayor Brown is a semester's worth of college." Through the center, students will have ample opportunities to see for themselves. Brown will serve as an adjunct faculty member, teach classes and meet with the campus community.


At a recent lecture at SF State's Downtown Campus, Brown shared a few leadership pointers: Be smart but "surround yourself with people who are smarter than you are," listen to people with "your full attention" and remember that "every decision must be focused on what is best for the public." He spoke of his early days in politics, including the nerve-wracking minutes before his first debate ("I resorted to prayer") and said politicians should not hide their true selves from the public: "You're better off being who you are."


For more information about the Willie L. Brown Jr. Leadership Center: www.sfsu.edu/~wbcenter


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