- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

OAKLAND, Calif. On a cool Wednesday night in May, the orange streetlight glow on Embarcadero Road filtering through the car window, Shannon Reeves slips and tells a "secret" he so far has held tightly.
Says the bespectacled black Republican wannabe: "I will be governor of California one day."
He is piloting his aged Chrysler New Yorker, a blue machine with 114,000 miles and license plates that read "NAACP 1." He's on his way down Interstate 580, heading home from another public appearance, a dinner meeting of the Marin and Novato chapters of the California Federation of Republican Women at a hotel just outside Sausalito.
His speech thrilled the upscale female audience to the soles of their Nine West heels.
"You can someday say you were there, when the 33-year-old, black, Republican secretary of the California Republican Party, who is also president of the Oakland NAACP, was here," Mr. Reeves began his 50-minute remarks. He had barely finished the word Republican before the ladies rattled their jewelry with applause.
The ambition of Mr. Reeves is quintessentially American. He says he means to cast aside race, the ideology of victimhood and the Great Society government programs created during the 1960s that he says "make people feel comfortable in their poverty."
He harbors no illusions. He's aware that historians have traced a suspicion of success among blacks dating to the slavery era, when slaves who worked in their masters' houses were treated better than those who toiled in the fields.
But in this new decade, it is entirely realistic that a black Republican can think he has a shot at becoming governor of the Democratic stronghold and melting pot that is California. This was the state where voters said no to race-based admissions to public universities and colleges, and where Ronald Reagan started his journey to the White House.
Despite these populist yet "conservative" milestones, many Californians boast that the state is the starting point for many of the country's progressive causes. Is that the future, then?
"Shannon represents the new breed of African-American leader," says Oakland City Manager Robert Bobb, who is black and serves the Democratic leadership in this city of 350,000, which is 38 percent black. "He's smart; he's positive. And there is a bright political future for Shannon that will depend on how he builds coalitions."

Starting point: The 'hood'
Oakland has long been the second city on the Bay, a dilapidated town where the less refined and the less moneyed live. There is no real reason for such a negative portrait of the city, save for the fact that when one crosses the Bay Bridge into San Francisco, the view on the right is the smooth, grassy hills of Marin County and Angel Island State Park, while the left affords a shot of the smoky shipping ports of the East Bay, Oakland's other, more upscale precincts.
Mr. Reeves was born April 20, 1968, to a 19-year-old mother in Hunter's Point on the San Francisco Peninsula, an area riddled with crime and poverty. One of four boys, he was raised by his grandmother in a household that subsisted on food stamps. He was bused off to a mostly white school during his formative years.
He made many friends in school, and they weren't all black. They were white, Asian and Middle Eastern. Yet he joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in junior high school. He graduated from high school, served in the Army for a couple of years and moved on to Grambling State University in Louisiana. Politically inclined and raised in poverty, he was ready to become a civil rights activist.
"I got an internship with Jesse Jackson's 1988 presidential campaign," Mr. Reeves said. "I was happy as I could be. In 1989, I changed my mind about my politics."
Mr. Reeves describes his change of heart with a Chris Rock-style delivery, humorous and full of irony. His reasoning skills, his temperament, his predisposition to iconoclasm prompted a political science teacher to ask him to ponder the unthinkable. "He asked me if I had ever thought about being a Republican, and I said 'no,'" Mr. Reeves said. "I said, 'If I go back home as a Republican, they'll run me out of Oakland.'"
But he started debating his friends about Republican goals of lower taxes and limited government. What, he asked them, have Democrats done to help the black man? He said he found they couldn't defend their own liberal beliefs. He recruited 75 of his fellow classmates to form the first Republican chapter at Grambling.
Mr. Reeves is sitting at the counter of a Nellie's soul food restaurant in Oakland. He loves the red beans and rice and gabbing with the patrons, mostly blue-collar blacks wearing baseball hats and jeans.
Amid the clatter of dishes, Mr. Reeves makes one of his trademark, unprovoked pronouncements: "All that I do aggravates black Democratic leaders," he said. "The black vote is the bedrock of the Democratic Party. People like me are a threat."
His civil rights career began as a Democrat, receiving guidance from Mr. Jackson and Rep. Maxine Waters of California, among the staunchest of Democrats. He was a young man, "watching, learning, but they were not bringing anything to the table that I wanted."
At 23, he was sent to Los Angeles to serve as the regional director of the NAACP. He got second looks all around. "People would look at me and ask, 'How old are you?'"
It was the time of the riots after the Rodney King trial, and Mr. Reeves noticed something. Miss Waters was encouraging blacks to register to vote in the wake of the riots, promising that doing so would make them eligible for jury duty so they could come up with their own verdicts. Mr. Reeves, however, thought the real reason Miss Waters wanted the registration was because she was up for re-election that fall and needed to increase her potential votes. The incident marked another step in Mr. Reeves' political development.

The learning process
It was July 2001, and Mr. Reeves looked out a bus window at downtown New Orleans. Eighteen years of history came up on him in a hurry. That's where, as a 15-year-old, he attended his first national NAACP convention in 1983. He was back again for another one.
He looked out the bus window and eyed the dirty, busy streets and the sunburned tourists. And he remembered. "One of the reasons that I always stay at a Marriott is because that's where I stayed when I came here, the first time I was ever really away from home," Mr. Reeves says.
It was that year when he got out of the airport shuttle van in front of the Marriott on Canal Street and the porter pulled his luggage out of the back to take to the desk. The teen-ager grabbed the bellman's shirt.
"I thought someone was stealing my bags," Mr. Reeves said, slightly embarrassed by the remembrance of it. "I was 2,000 miles away from home, and a guy in a funny suit takes my bags. Think of how many people there are like that, who don't know what a bellman is."
No matter how much he disagrees with the NAACP's opposition to free-market capitalism and its embrace of black victimology, he says, "It helped me so much to be part of it, it was really how I grew up. It taught me discipline, how to travel, how to be safe. How can I ever turn my back on that? I had no biological father, I had to find one somewhere else."
He found it first at Grambling, where he and his longtime friend Robert Oliver became roomates and spent late nights bouncing ideological ideas off each other. They joined the NAACP together. Several years later, Mr. Oliver watched his friend Shannon dramatically increase the membership of the group's Oakland chapter, from 900 to 5,000, the West Coast's largest.
When Mr. Reeves runs for governor of California, he will win, Mr. Oliver vows. "Shannon won't let it go. When he puts his energy into something, he can get it done."
Velma Chavis, a Democrat and secretary of the NAACP's Oakland branch, attended the NAACP convention last summer. She was a vocal critic of the Republican agenda and loudly applauded when NAACP Chairman Julian Bond compared the Republican Party to the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
But Miss Chavis recalled with pride meeting Mr. Reeves in 1995.
"I first met him and figured, 'Well, he's a nice young man,'" Miss Chavis says. "Then I saw him speak and said, 'Well, listen to him.' People were on their feet; he was talking 100 miles an hour. And he had something to say. And he was so young."
Several days later, Mr. Reeves appeared on ABC's "Politically Incorrect." About the same time, he was the subject of a profile on National Public Radio. His conservative message of black self-help was beginning to gain national attention.

Taking the heat
Yet Mr. Reeves has angered many in the liberal political establishment.
He ran for mayor of Oakland in 1998, at age 30, and lost to New Age liberal-turned-free-marketer Jerry Brown. The campaign brought out the wolves.
"Shannon Reeves should read our recent black political history a bit more closely, lest he travel the same political trail of Sammy Davis Jr. functioning as a black yes-man to the white Republicans," Frank Jones wrote for Gibbs Magazine, the publication of the Gibbs Foundation, an Oakland-based philanthropic organization.
"Shannon Reeves saw Jesse Jackson run for president, then becomes a millionaire, and Shannon saw that possibility," Mr. Jones said several months later. "The community is looking at him very suspiciously here. Being a black Republican is a code for being anti-black. It would be different if he were a Democrat; we would have some sort of political control over him."
Two years ago, Kweisi Mfume, the national president of the NAACP, was quoted in the Oakland media as saying to some local NAACP members: "We aren't pleased with him. … But if you want him out, you should increase membership in the branch and vote him out." Nobody wanted that, and Mr. Reeves was re-elected head of the NAACP Oakland chapter a few months later.
Rather than being discouraged by the opposition of the NAACP establishment, Mr. Reeves keeps on pounding the pulpit, urging blacks to embrace the ethic of hard work, personal responsibility and self-help. He carries this message to basketball games. Mr. Reeves can be seen frequently at Golden State Warriors games, giving grief to the players.
Mr. Reeves answers his critics by saying that the "liberal, civil rights establishment" is attempting to ostracize him because of his maverick Republican views. "Anytime somebody isn't marching to the beat of the same drum, a black leader steps up to call him on that. I have so many people come up to me and say, 'You're the only Republican I like.' Once they hear what I'm about, things get easier. They understand ideas like shifting the focus from white racism to responsibility."

The Ghetto Gas King
On a spring morning, his office on the fourth floor of a down-and-out, six-story downtown Oakland building is, to put it kindly, unorganized. Mr. Reeves is answering a relentlessly ringing phone, typing out messages on a tiny Motorola pager and trying to pay attention to his guest.
He finally gives up his cell phone. "I kept getting calls on it."
For good reason. He has his hands in many things in Oakland. His nonprofit group, the Freedom Fund, pumps money to inner-city projects similar to those assisted by his nemesis, the Gibbs Foundation. Add to that the two Chevron stations Mr. Reeves runs in the tougher areas of Oakland, along with his duties at the NAACP and the California Republican Party, and Mr. Reeves is a busy man. Visitors get a lot of time to inspect the premises because he is always late.
So there's time to inspect the 30-plus wooden plaques that decorate one wall of his office and several feature articles in local and national newspapers, as well as the NAACP commendations from appearances in places as diverse as Pocatello, Idaho, and Waxahachie, Texas.
Right now, his master plan is to funnel profits from his gas stations into the Freedom Fund, which then goes to pay his rent and private-school tuition for his two daughters, as well as maintaining his high profile as a benefactor in the public eye.
"I went to Chevron and told them I could sell gas to black people better than they could," he explained. "Those were corporate-owned and run by white people, and this was the 'hood.' Nobody was going there. One of them had been robbed three times."
So Chevron gave him an opportunity to manage a $3 million Chevron on 12th Street just under Interstate 880. Mr. Reeves employed his grandmother to work the register and tapped the neighborhood for youths looking for work as well. He stocked up on orange and grape soda. He took the Cascade off the shelves, because nobody around there had the luxury of an automatic dishwasher. He replaced Cascade with Joy. Gasoline sales tripled.
He got another site, this one at 98th Street and Edes, which was another run-down locale with little commerce, save for bindles of heroin selling for $15.
Mr. Reeves dubbed himself the "Ghetto Gas King." His black business partner, Mark Anthony Jones, was already in high standing in Oakland through his Terrible Tom's Meats, a company he took over from his father.
"Shannon is great with ideas, and I can get them done," Mr. Jones said. "He is a great dreamer who sees things that nobody else can, and he loves the spotlight. He lights up when there is a camera around, so I let him do all the talking."
The three corner acres at 98th Street bustle on a sunny day, and the Ghetto Gas King inspects the place. Business is so good that expansion is on the way. He is preparing to add a four-bay oil-change facility as well as a car wash at the site.
So far during this day, he has inspected both stations, spoken to the mayor's office, the state Republican Party president and secured a banquet space for the state party convention.
It's another ordinary day in his life. "Just trying to do a little business, a little politics, a little civil rights," he said. "Nobody is trying to shut down blacks now; we've got to make sure we use our rights, though."
He says California has only four black-owned gasoline stations. "It's not racism; it's not racist. There is no sentiment of, 'We're going to keep the blacks out.' It's just that there are no blacks at the table when they are talking about new gas stations. … They are not keeping blacks out."
Mr. Reeves pulls up to his other gas station on 12th Street in another crime-ridden neighborhood, which sits across from the Calvary Church of God in Christ and a liquor store. He leans against the headrest and looks a little older than 33.
"Here I am, president of the Oakland NAACP, a private business owner," he said. He looks at his station, and says: "I'm doing what I think I'm supposed to do."

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