San Diego civic leader Willie Blair has led campaigns for racial equity

San Diego community leader Willie Blair fought for racial equity at San Diego City Hall and Congress, then as president of the Black American Political Association of California, framing a new generation of leaders.

Blair died Thursday evening from an unspecified illness unrelated to COVID-19. He was 69 years old.

“He was really trying to bridge the achievement gap for black Americans and improve the standing of the black community in San Diego and California,” his daughter Deborah Smith said.

California Secretary of State Shirley Weber said she was saddened and surprised to learn of Blair’s death and that he would leave a “huge void”. But, she added, he had also laid the groundwork for the next generation of leaders during his years of public service and as the head of BAPAC, a civic engagement and public policy think tank that helps African-American Californians improve their education, professionalism and economy. Opportunities.

“We miss him dearly because he has given so much,” said Weber, a longtime San Diegan. “But he’s trained so much too. Those who worked at BAPAC were under his tutelage. He has been a tremendous role model for so many on how to selflessly serve and serve. “

On Saturday, social media lit up with tributes to Blair from other local leaders, who highlighted his dedication and service to his community.

“He was a remarkable man committed to serving and fighting for the underrepresented in his work with@BAPACSDCalifornia Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins tweeted.

County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher recalled Blair on Twitter as “a titan in the fight for fairness and justice.”

San Diego civil rights activist Shane Harris recalled Blair as a thoughtful listener and speaker, who sought to elevate the status of African Americans within the Democratic Party and other institutions.

“He has often shared with Democrats that black lives should matter in the party which says it embraces everyone,” Harris said. “He always listened, and when he didn’t agree he always cared about you.”

In a 2015 interview Regarding “upward mobility” on KPBS, Blair described the challenges black Americans still face in securing a place in the middle class.

“There are still skilled blacks in California who should rightfully get high paying white collar jobs as well as blue collar jobs,” he said. “We still find that many of these opportunities are denied due to racial discrimination. We are still trying to become a mature company.

Blair was also passionate about finding common ground with Latinos, Asians and other cultural groups, Smith said.

“He would speak everywhere, in churches, at the local chapter of the NAACP,” she said. “It was also huge with cross alliances with the Hispanic community, with Filipino Americans, Native Americans.”

Blair was born in 1951 in Knoxville, Tenn., And grew up as one of eight children, Smith said. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Maryville College in 1973, Smith said, and soon after graduation he was made an officer in the United States Navy.

Blair served for eight years, including a period of service in Vietnam as the leader of a small boat, where he participated in the evacuation of Saigon and Cambodia in May 1975, said Ellen Nash, president of the San chapter. Diego de BAPAC. Blair moved to San Diego shortly after his honorable release in 1981 and received a Masters of Business Administration and a Doctorate in Humanities and Arts from Point Loma Nazarene University.

In 1985, Blair helped run the successful campaign of former San Diego Mayor Maureen O’Connor and then worked in his administration, Nash said. He then became special assistant to former Congressman Bob Filner, focusing on veteran issues, including veteran homelessness, and retired in 2013, Smith said. She described her father as an “avid writer and reader,” who enjoyed dining out and watching movies, and even wrote a screenplay.

From 2008 to 2017, Blair served as chairman of the board of directors of BAPAC, and in 2017 he was elected state chairman of the organization, Nash said.

“I still try to think about the loss of our dear friend and community leader,” Nash said in a statement, adding that Blair was passionate about helping people of color become homeowners and be successful on the plane. educational and economic. “He would meet up and make himself available so that anyone could just talk about the shop; what are the needs of our black and brown communities. We have truly lost a giant in our community.

Besides his daughter, Blair is survived by siblings Janet, Trece and Roger, as well as several nieces and nephews.

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