Don’t just survive, but thrive: The legacy of Fred Jordan

In Fred Jordan’s living room, the walls are alive with beautiful Black art and from the window he can survey the city he loves. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

by Lin Robertson

An unselfish leader is one who has learned how to get to the mountaintop. As great leaders, they also reach back and pull up the rest of us, not leaving anyone they can help behind. Fred Jordan has kept up the good fight and continues to promote Black success in business and life in general. But he points out that California remains one of just nine states with no Affirmative Action policies today. 

“We put people on the moon, but we can’t seem to bring equal opportunity to African Americans.” The result is that we are awarded less than 1 percent of the contracts in California that are paid for with our tax dollars.

Fred Jordan at CBS Channel 5’s 2017 Black History Month event – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

Jordan saw the writing on the wall when he witnessed early on how public policy in San Francisco could devastate Black communities in the name of progress. He describes the Fillmore district during the early ‘70s, when Jordan first moved here as a college graduate. Back then, the Fillmore was the Harlem of the West, a jazz mecca with 29 or more clubs where legends like Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie often showed up to perform. 

Fred Jordan congratulates Mary and Dr. Willie Ratcliff when they were recognized by the San Francisco Housing Development Corp. at its Power in Numbers gala held in the Academy of Sciences on May 11, 2018. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

In 1973, however, the City’s Redevelopment Agency labeled the Fillmore community a ghetto. They decided to “mow down” that neighborhood to bring in sleek condominiums, apartments and stores. “It was an absolute disaster.” For the following 20 years, the Fillmore – which was once one of the most vibrant locations in the country – would lie empty. 

“Big rats ran across the streets. The Redevelopment Agency pushed over 50,000 African Americans out of San Francisco, just like that.” Many even left the Bay Area altogether, moving to places like Georgia and Louisiana, where they could afford to live.

Today, gentrification continues. Jordan has calculated that we’ve gone from being 18 percent of the population down to 3.5 percent in the City and County of San Francisco. Public as well as private conglomerates often underestimate our power because we no longer have the numbers; Jordan finds himself having to continually remind them that we matter. Yet, during the recent Prop 16 campaign meant to reinstate Affirmative Action as a policy requirement for local agencies in California, only three out of 45 tech and other major employers responded to the African American Chamber of Commerce’s request for assistance to get the desired outcome.

Jordan is one of our most successful business leaders in California, with a BS and MS in Civil Engineering from Howard and Stanford, respectively. A self-made man, he established his own Black-owned firm, F.E. Jordan Associates, Inc. (FEJA) in 1974. FEJA has designed and managed the construction of over 1,000 projects in the western U.S. and overseas in Africa, compiling over 50 awards and accommodations for business and engineering excellence.

he Howard Container Terminal at the Port of Oakland was designed by F.E. Jordan Associates, Fred Jordan’s engineering firm.

The Oakland Tribune has cited his company as having changed the landscape of Oakland more than any other with designs of world-renowned terminals at the Port of Oakland, state of the art bridges and tunnels for transportation agencies, as well as numerous high-rise buildings in downtown Oakland. 

The BART Station at SFO was designed and its construction managed by F.E. Jordan Associates.

Jordan’s professional accomplishments also include the delivery of program and construction management for the Oakland Airport expansion, San Francisco International Terminal G, BART extension to San Francisco airport, as well as the development partner on the award winning 42-story St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco.

Fred Jordan, whose engineering firm, F.E. Jordan Associates, has long been known as the largest Black engineering firm in the US, was the development partner on the award winning 42-story St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco. The then unfinished Salesforce Tower is just to its right.

While he could have just focused on his own professional achievements without regard for anyone else, Jordan remains true to his mission to foster Affirmative Action wherever he can for his people. That was ingrained in him while he grew up in D.C. 

One day, his mother told him, “Boy, come go with me.” She took him to the Washington Monument where he saw buses riding in from all over the country filled with people seeking change. Everybody would eventually get real quiet to hear these words: “I have a dream.” 

We have to be innovative, learn from each other and support our advocacy organizations like the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce to be able to compete in this new world.

Jordan never forgot MLK’s powerful message that culminated that 1963 March on Washington. It continues to be his call for action today. As you can imagine, he is very excited about the new Black Lives Matter movement today, considering it a catalyst for new beginnings that can create opportunities for our prosperity moving forward. 

‘I try not to let things happen. I make things happen.’

Jordan invites Black businesses to join him in the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce as they make way to open a new office in the Fillmore area. While he fights for increased participation of certified disadvantaged and minority-owned businesses on Caltrans projects, we should also take advantage of the chamber to prepare, learn, grow and promote ourselves for the new economy that is upon us.

At the request of Gov. Newsom, Jordan organized 64 Black-owned personal protection equipment (PPE) vendors to be registered with California’s Department of General Services (DGS) to be able to sell large amounts of PPE products to local and state agencies. “This is where the big money is being spent now, and we as African Americans must be part of that.”

Jordan concludes that we have to be innovative, learn from each other, and support our advocacy organizations like the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce to be able to compete in this new world. “We must push on.” Let us therefore follow his lead and create our own legacy as a community.

Lin Robertson began her career by launching the Aruba Foreign Investment Agency in her native Aruba, a Caribbean island nation off the coast of Venezuela. Coming to California in 1998, she worked with the San Jose Office of Equality Assurance and in 2005 founded The Labor Compliance Managers, where she is managing director. She is also senior producer for International Media TV. Lin can be reached at lin.tlcm@gmail.com.