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2 Willies Getting Things Done

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It seems like life brings them in pairs: there was Martin and Malcolm, ‘Kennedy and Kennedy,’ Truth and Tubman, etc. It gets your attention because all of the twosomes seem to have a mission of trying to make this world a better place.

Well in the past few months the Inland Empire (and San Bernardino, in particular) has lost two giants from the NAACP and New Hope Baptist Church.

Some did not agree with their politics but they were effective in what they went after. I’m talking about two Willies: Clark and Garrett. They came from Texas, the state that refused to tell Blacks that slavery had been abolished until two years after the Civil War ended.

This brought about the Juneteenth celebration, of which both Willies were committed to celebrate because they wanted the rest of the world to know the truth about how racism works. Their styles were different yet both were effective.

Garrett was somewhat louder than Clark and would confront you on the spot and in public. This was to get a reaction and maybe Garrett would laugh after you became rattled. Clark, on the other hand, would laugh while confronting you with the same question in a different way.

No matter which approach, their mission was they same. Just like the other twosomes before them; they passed away while serving. Clark was still President of the Rialto/Fontana NAACP Branch and Garrett was Chairman of the Political Action Committee of the San Bernardino Branch.

Willie Garrett, for example, always led the get out the vote drive on the Westside with his famous bullhorn on his van or raised money from political parties to open up campaign offices. He pushed NAACP for over forty years and is the reason I was elected President of the NAACP two years ago.

The Westside Drop-in Center came about because Garrett sought to bring services to the people who would not go downtown but needed the benefits of food, social security, postal services and health care services.

Garrett knew the Westside community so well that he could go down any street and call people out by name and remind them to get out and vote. He was also known to host card parties at his home for some of his local buddies. I won’t tell you who they were.

Willie Clark was the first Black to obtain the rank of Detective in the San Bernardino Police Department which was no small feat. He also taught a crime lab class at San Bernardino Valley College. Clark also knew his community very well.

He could call every kid by name and say “boy you know your mama would not allow you to act like that.” He was down to earth in his approach to life. One incident I remember was at a local hospital, Clark was NAACP President of the San Bernardino Branch.

He came to the meeting with his service revolver in his brief case. When the officials observed the gun it changed the outcome of the negotiations and later the person who got the NAACP involved rightly received thousands in back pay. Willie was licensed to carry a gun with him at all times. He was a very effective representative of the NAACP and our community.

These two community activist will be missed but their examples of how to get things done will live on in the lives of the organizations they loved and the people in the local NAACP.

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