San Francisco’s NAACP chapter is set to hand out recognitions to a handful of people next week at its 94th-annual gala.
But some NAACP members are calling into question two honorees because one works for Wells Fargo, which was accused of praying on black homeowners during the housing crisis, and another for development giant Lennar Urban that was fined for stirring up dust that spread across the heavily black Bayview District.
“They deceived the black community across this nation and robbed black folks of their inheritance…and we’re giving them an NAACP award,” NAACP executive council member Archbishop Franzo King said of Wells Fargo.
Among the questionable honorees are Brenda Wright, senior vice president, manager of community relations west, for Wells Fargo; and Kofi Bonner, Northern California president of FivePoint, a Lennar affiliate.
But the companies’ respective questionable pasts have some in the NCAAP concerned about the awards. In 2012, Wells Fargo was responsible for 22 percent of all foreclosures in The City and was alleged to have committed predatory banking, similar to what brought on the mortgage meltdown and the subsequent Great Recession.
In 2008, Lennar was fined $515,000 by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District board after a dust cloud resulted from grading work, raising fears that asbestos was in the dust and could have made people sick. It was never confirmed that there was asbestos in the dust.
“We are very concerned to say that they would be giving those two people an award when both of them are chiefly responsible for … African Americans having to leave The City,” said NAACP executive board member Jacquie Taliaferro, who is also the organizations’ media chair. “I’m not sure how this came about.”
But other members of the organization’s leadership disagreed.
NAACP President Rev. Amos Brown said the critics of his organization’s honoree choices — NAACP members themselves — are painting a disingenuous picture, especially when it comes to who is responsible for pushing black people out of San Francisco.
“We’re not honoring Wells Fargo bank,” said Brown. “None of these financial institutions [are] clean.”
Brown blames the black exodus on The City’s political establishment and its long history of anti-black policies.
NAACP Vice President Rev. Arnold Townsend said that there was no secret decision and the organization’s choice to honor Wright and Bonner in no way condones what any company has done.
“We’re not honoring Wells Fargo, we’re honoring someone who works for Wells Fargo who has been a tremendous friend in our community,” said Townsend. He added that while he can’t ignore the fact that Wells Fargo may be using some of the money the bank received through its alleged unfair banking to give back to the very communities it hurt, the money that comes from philanthropy, no matter what the source, should not be turned away.
Board of Supervisors President London Breed said linking these two people with the actions purportedly committed by the companies they work for is unfair.
“I’m not saying what they did was justified in any way, it’s just saying look at this individual person,” Breed said of Wright and Bonner.
In Bonner’s case, said Breed, he worked hard to heal the gap between the community and Lennar after paying the fine for stirring up dust at their Hunter’s Point project site.
Wright has done equally commendable things in the black community, Breed added. Specifically, Wright’s philanthropic work for Wells Fargo has helped black nonprofits.
Bonner and Wright could not be reached for comment.