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Joe Debro passes: National leader of Black contractors championed jobsite justice

November 18, 2013

by Dr. Karl Debro

Joseph R. Debro Jr., web
Joseph R. Debro Jr.
Oakland resident Joseph R. Debro Jr. was born in Jackson, Mississippi, on Nov. 27, 1928, and passed away on Nov. 5, 2013, at a VA facility in Martinez, California. Joe Debro was the eldest of three children born to Joseph Debro and Seleana Gaylor Debro. Mr. Debro’s two younger siblings, Julius Cesar and Gloria Etta, were born in 1931 and 1935.

His life in Mississippi was highlighted by his studies and his activities with the Boy Scouts. He became one of the first African-American boys to earn the rank of Eagle Scout.

The family moved to Oakland in 1943. Mr. Debro entered McClymonds High School where he became president of his senior class and graduated with honors. Upon graduation, he received an appointment to West Point from Congressman Adam Clayton Powell.

When he underwent his physical, it was discovered that he had a sickle cell anemia trait and his appointment was questioned. Congressman Powell did not believe the results and sent him to Howard University, where the famous Dr. Charles Drew confirmed the original diagnosis and Mr. Debro was released from the Army.

Joe Debro, Ray Dones
Joe Debro, Ray Dones
He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Bacteriology in 1952 and Master’s degree in Biochemistry in 1960, both from the University of California at Berkeley. Following college, Mr. Debro served as a research assistant at UCSF and a bio-chemical engineer NASA, where he worked on the environment of the first space capsule.

Mr. Debro soon realized that his passion in life was not to be a scientist. He decided instead to enter the business world. There he found his true calling, challenging long-standing practices of discrimination and racial exclusion in trade unions and government contracting. This would be his primary struggle to the end of his life.

In the late 1960s, he and Ray Dones organized over 300 Black contractors and co-founded the National Association of Minority Contractors (NAMC). He founded the first minority owned surety company in the country, The Builders Mutual Surety Company.

His true calling, challenging long-standing practices of discrimination and racial exclusion in trade unions and government contracting.

He was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown as the director of the state of California Office of Small Business. He became a co-founder, with his long-time business partner Amelia Macias Akiyama, of TransBay Engineering.

Joe Debro 2005 by Eric Luse, SF Chron
Joe Debro in 2005 – Photo: Eric Luse, San Francisco Chronicle
Their signature accomplishment was the renovation of the long dormant Alice Arts Center, now known as the Malonga Casquelord Arts Center on Alice Street, in Oakland. But there were other successes. The construction of the Clorox and the Wells Fargo Building in joint venture, Oakland City Center and the TransPacific Building, to mention just a few of their other numerous business ventures. According to the TransBay Engineering company website:

“He wrote the proposal for the SBA surety bond guarantee program and lobbied for its passage through Congress. Mr. Debro has arguably brought more minority trainees into the unions than anyone in Northern California.”

In every contract that was awarded, Joseph tried to find ways to include women and minority-owned businesses. He has received many awards in recognition of his unwavering efforts in helping to pave the way for women and minority business owners throughout his business career.

Joseph served over 40 years on the board of the Housing Assistance Council in Washington, D.C., whose mission is to construct affordable housing for low income people throughout the country.

“Mr. Debro has arguably brought more minority trainees into the unions than anyone in Northern California.”

Perhaps one of his longest and most passionate struggles was the lawsuit that he launched against the Oakland Raiders for receiving a “loan” of $465 million from the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda that was never repaid. The city still pays the Raiders $10 million a year under the terms of the deal.

Joe Debro 'Bay Area Projects on Hold Over Racism Charges' 021210 by CBS5
On Feb. 12, 2010, Joe Debro was featured in a very provocative interview by CBS5 headlined “Bay Area Projects on Hold Over Racism Charges.” – Video frame: CBS5
After retirement, Joe Debro never ceased to be active in his community and began writing for several community newspapers, including the San Francisco Bay View, a national Black newspaper; the East Bay Express; and the Oakland Post. He was also a member of the Oakland Kiwanis Club. Additionally he served on a Kiwanis Club committee which provided scholarship funds for local students.

He continued to mentor and advocate for young business people and contractors, trying to break down the barriers of racial exclusion in trade unions and government contracting.

Joseph Debro and Anita, his wife of 63 years, met in high school and were college sweethearts. Anita was the rock and foundation for Mr. Debro and their family.

The Debros struggled to insure that all of their children acquired an education, and all three of their sons not only graduated college, but attained Master’s degrees. The middle son, Karl, earned his doctorate a year before his father’s death.

He continued to mentor and advocate for young business people and contractors, trying to break down the barriers of racial exclusion in trade unions and government contracting.

Joseph Debro is survived by his wife, Anita English Debro; his three sons and three daughters-in-law, Keith (Kelly), Karl (Christine), Kraig (Reiko); five grandchildren (Kyle, Drew, Kira, Anika, Maiki); many nephews and nieces; and a host of relatives and friends. He was preceded in death by his younger sister, Gloria Etta Jacquet, and is survived by his younger brother and best friend, Julius Debro.

In lieu of flowers, please send donations to Anita Debro on behalf of the Debro Family Trust, 3130 Hood St., Oakland, CA 94605.

Dr. Karl Debro can be reached at KDeBro@contracosta.edu.

 

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4 thoughts on “Joe Debro passes: National leader of Black contractors championed jobsite justice

  1. Ann_Garrison

    Never met him in person but I've read his writing about local hire and minority contracting here in the Bay View and I agree. He was a practical, hands on dreamer with a plan, like Chokwe Lumumba.

    Reply
  2. Peter

    Was the nicest and most gentle person I have met, Growing up with the his youngest son and hanging out with Kraig at there house was always an very enlightening time. Like the Raider jacket guys….. Safe travels….

    Reply

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