Former President Bill Clinton (right) introduces former San Francisco Mayor and California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr. as the 2018 recipient of the Spingarn Medal.
Former President Bill Clinton (right) introduces former San Francisco Mayor and California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr. as the 2018 recipient of the NAACP's highest honor, the Spingarn Medal. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Former President Bill Clinton spent his Wednesday night in San Antonio, dining at Mi Tierra before addressing a crowd of several hundred at the NAACP’s 109th national convention, all because of a call from an old friend.

The 42nd president told NAACP members that former San Francisco Mayor and California Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Jr. had called and asked him to introduce Brown as the 2018 recipient of the Spingarn Medal, the NAACP’s highest honor.

“If you stay in politics as long as I did, you learn a few things,” Clinton said. “One of the things I learned is if [Brown] asks you to do something you might as well go on and say, ‘yes,’ because you’re going to do it sooner or later anyway.”

During his brief address, Clinton touched on reasons why Brown was worthy of such a significant achievement, and why his public service mattered in the current contentious political climate. He urged the crowd to focus on the “common humanity.”

“When we forget it, we suffer,” he said. “When we remember it, we prosper.”

In today’s political environment, Clinton said, the country’s differences are being tested more than ever before.

“We should remember this today when voting rights, when family security and the best interest of our children, when the bonds of our neighbors and the friendships of our oldest allies are being strained, all because we have begun to think that our differences matter more than our common humanity,” he said. “The NAACP is needed more than ever.”

Later, Clinton recounted his relationship with Brown, reminiscing on the conversations they had when Clinton tried to secure Brown’s endorsement in the California presidential primary in 1992. While Brown declined to endorse Clinton because a former California governor, Jerry Brown, was also in the race, the former president said their relationship nonetheless took off.

During his two terms in the White House, Clinton worked closely with Brown for solutions in California and San Francisco in response to a health care crisis and threatening natural disasters. He said he always left meetings with Brown with a healthy to-do list and has admired the Californian since because of his zeal for public service.

“He will never shut up and sit down, until no person is left out, no person is left behind, [and] no person is looked down on,” Clinton said.

During the last event of the 109th national NAACP convention, Clinton pointed out that Wednesday also marked the 100th birthday of Nelson Mandela, who fought to end his country’s system of apartheid and was the first president of South Africa elected in a fully representative election.

This comparison was fitting as a convention with the theme “Defeat Hate. Vote” came to a close and NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson declared that nothing is currently more important to the country’s democracy than participating in the 2018 midterm elections.

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the Rivard Report.