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If you like Willie Brown's story, you might also like:
David Boies,
Ben Carson,
Rudolph Giuliani,
Daniel Inouye,
John Lewis,
Ralph Nader,
Rosa Parks,
Anthony Romero,
Barry Scheck,
Alan Simpson,
Antonio Villaraigosa
and Andrew Young

Willie Brown can also be seen and heard in our Podcast Center

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Willie Brown in the Achievement Curriculum section:
What is a Leader

Willie Brown's recommended reading: The Prince

Willie Brown also appears in the video:
Making a Better World: What is Your Responsibility to the Community?

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Willie Brown
Willie Brown
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Willie Brown Interview (page: 5 / 6)

Former Mayor of San Francisco

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  Willie Brown

What personal characteristics do you think are most important for success?

Willie Brown: I believe in a well-rounded education, the most comprehensive, every subject matter. Those that you're personally interested in and those that you're not, you ought to have some exposure to them. You ought to master the lingo of that subject matter, and you should be curious enough to continue that process by reading everything you can get your hands on connected with it.

Anybody who reads the daily newspaper, for an example, and only reads the sections of their interest is doing themselves a disservice. You ought to read the travel section, the home section, the business section, the want ads, you ought to be interested enough. And that will constitute the foundation of success in whatever field in which you go. That will constitute the opportunity for a quality of life that will be very, very rewarding. So, the basic education, as comprehensive as it is humanly possible for you to achieve, is what will be the foundation for your success in any respective category.

That's quality number one. Quality number two: You have to make a choice on what you want to do at any given moment. That is not to say you have to stick with it for the rest of your life, but you've got to make a choice. Running all over the place on any given day, or any given week or measured time period, will cause you ultimately to want to rest. And when you stop to rest it will be because you didn't complete any of the projects.

Willie Brown Interview Photo
Believe me, rest comes almost automatically on the completion of a project. You complete the project and you're totally re-energized, because you no longer have to think about it, you don't have to devote any time to it, or any energy. It just reinvents your life, it reinvents you. So, focusing on a project or an object and completing it becomes, in my opinion, the second quality.

The third, and maybe even equal to the first two, is the ability to communicate. No matter what you're doing, you've got to be able to communicate. Communicating is marketing, communicating is selling, communicating is doing all those things. But you've got to do it, you've got to be able to. Whether you're a Bill Gates, or Herschel Walker, or Sam Donaldson, or Bill Clinton, you absolutely have to communicate.

The world will never know and never appreciate who you are if all they see is the silence of one who appears to be selfish in his or her endeavor. So if I had to say generally what goes into the makeup of a successful human being, those are the characteristics you will find most common among all.

What do you know now about achievement that you didn't know when you were younger?

Willie Brown: Almost everything I know about achievement now I did not know when I was younger. Remember, my exposure was so limited. Unlike the kids of today, I didn't have counselors who interpreted the things that other personalities had done in order to be successful. So practically everything that I know about the foundations for success I have learned subsequently to my 17 years in Mineola.

What idea most captures your attention these days?

Willie Brown: Trying to sell the idea of public service in some capacity to the young. And by young, I don't mean the 17s and the 18s, or the 14s and the 15s, I'm talking all the way down. That fascinates and drives me more than anything else. That's where my interest happens to be.

What are the biggest challenges we face in the next century?

Willie Brown: The biggest challenges we're facing is how to deal with poverty in the world. If we don't figure out some way that people can maintain themselves in this enormously wealthy world, if they can't acquire the bare necessities of life, I think we're in for the destruction of life as we know it.

I don't think that we can only have the have-nots move to protect the environment from total exploitation by mankind. I think we have to have the lowest non-wage earner in India, or in Rwanda just as interested in recycling in their own sphere as someone in Manhattan, or in Miami Beach, or in Newport Beach, or in Marin County. Got to be just as interested. Currently, only the residents of those areas evidence that interest. The world is slowly but surely slipping into the brink of disaster, environmentally speaking. And it's because we have not dealt with the basic issue of human survival. And until we do that we're in trouble.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

Is there anything you would like to do that you haven't done yet?

Willie Brown: There are lots of things that I want to do personally that I haven't done. I still have not mastered that quarterbacking stuff that I talked about. I still don't have the courage to do the downhill racing that my son does in places like Sun Valley, or up at Ketchum. I still don't have full appreciation of how one flies. I'm sure the list I'm giving you is shared by lots of people. Those are things you really want to do, but on my professional side, I am in fact doing those things which I want to do the most.

What's your advice to young people who are just starting out?

Willie Brown Interview Photo
Willie Brown: My advice to young people who are just starting out is that if they don't have anything else going for them, they can take my life and know that anybody can achieve. If that puts hope and optimism in them, then I've done my job, and I'll be proud of that.

They can literally take my life and my circumstance, from age eight to wherever I happen to be now, and know that whatever barrier is there for them, they start with a greater exposure to knowledge. They start with a world more open to affording them assistance. They start with the world in greater need than was the case when Willie Brown first started out.

They start with the world which will pride itself on tolerance, versus acknowledged intolerance. I carefully said, "acknowledged intolerance." Intolerance is still there, probably in the same abundant supply it was in '51, when I first moved from Texas to California. But nevertheless, the denial of that and the desire to evidence tolerance is even greater.

I believe that youngsters have a better opportunity than I ever had in using me as a measure of success, what a lack of opportunity can ultimately produce. It seems to me, it ought to be inspirational.

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This page last revised on Nov 11, 2013 20:18 EST
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