In Utah, Jeanetta Williams is at the heart and soul of the NAACP.
Tell her a dashing fellow named "Bond" wants to see her, and she assumes you mean Julian, not James.
Ask her idea of a "doorman" and she'll tell you, "We need to help young people see how people have worked to open doors for them. I think of the doors I've opened for others and think of the all doors that have been opened for me. We need to tell our young people they need to open doors, too."
Last Monday, Jeanetta Williams was elected to her fifth consecutive term as president of the Salt Lake Branch of the NAACP. The reason for the vote of confidence is her track record. During her eight-year tenure, the organization has embraced members of other races and reached out to local churches, schools and the Utah business community. She says she never loses sight of the NAACP mission statement: Fight discrimination in any form, but embrace all people.
"I know people think all the NAACP does is complain," she said. "But that's because people don't often call us until there's a problem. We're here all the time, doing many good things."
Born in Oklahoma, Williams felt the fire of social justice ignite inside as a girl while she was watching the civil rights struggle on television.
"Seeing two young white men killed trying to help," she said today, "that encouraged me."
As an adult, she took a job in Idaho with US WEST, retiring on a Jan. 15, 1993 — Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. She has been deeply involved as a volunteer with the Utah Branch of NAACP since 1988. Over the years, she's drawn courage from her meetings with such icons of the civil rights movement as Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King and many others. But her true bond has been with Julian Bond, national president of the organization. He helped her onto the 17-member national executive board and constantly offers inspiration.
"He tells me, 'The world is watching you. Keep the good work up,' " she said.
Inside the state, Williams is known as the woman who helped push through the Martin Luther King holiday and who takes unflinching positions on racial profiling and stereotyping. Her motto has always been "There are no small issues."
Still, she also finds time to personally attend sessions of LDS conference to get to know her neighbors, and she has written personal letters to rap artists asking them to tone down their "lavatory language."
Outside of Utah, many would be surprised to learn she is a strong advocate for the state, talking up the growing diversity of Utah and attacking unfair assumptions about life here. In short, the local chapter of the NAACP, under her leadership, is looking to expand its appeal. It wants to help a broader spectrum of people and attract a broader spectrum of members.
"The 'C' in NAACP stands for 'color(ed),' " Williams said, echoing Bond. "And people come in all colors."
The only thing that leaves her speechless, in fact, is a question about her hobbies and outside interests. She has to think. The NAACP is her outside interest, she finally says.
If Jeanetta Williams is at the heart and soul of the Utah NAACP, it is because she has been so willing to put heart and soul into it.