I met Albert at a recent Community Conversations meeting. I greatly appreciated what he brought to the table so I asked him if he’d be willing to participate in this project. He not only obliged but also offered to begin actively seeking out other folks to send my way. I look forward to seeing how that develops. Albert keeps it real. I love it when people keep it real. He shared a few stories of his life with me - and now with you - but I imagine there are so many more. I look forward to gleaning more wisdom from him. He says this about halfway through the interview, “But I know that if we were all the same color, we would pick out some difference and find a way.” And that simultaneously made me sad and gave me hope. We seem to be hard-wired to treat each other poorly. But there are folks all around us that don’t subscribe to that and Albert is a really good example for us to look to.
Who are you and how would you describe yourself?
Wow, you like to start with the tough questions, huh? I'm Albert Wright. I am the fifth of seven children. My father was a Baptist pastor with a master's degree in theology. My mom has a sixth-grade education and I'll tell you she was far more intelligent than my father. I am a compassionate, generous, giving individual that likes to seek the best out of mankind and other people. I enjoy inspiring and leading and watching people grow. And I'm a father of five daughters.
What motivates you?
Well, what keeps me going now is much different than what kept me going when I was employed. What kept me going when I was employed was - ever since I was a very, very young man... I started work at eight or nine years old sweeping a parking lot at a little strip mall that had like four stores. I've never collected an unemployment check because I was always taught that you had to go earn it. So, I always had a work motivation and then, as I got older, most of the places that I worked for at some point asked me to assume some sort of management position. So then I had the confidence that maybe I might know a little bit about what I'm doing. And then the will to succeed has always driven me. It's just a matter of life - when it comes to work and jobs and things of that sort, there are different types. There are those people that have the ability to do beautiful artwork. Okay? So they're self-driven - to take what they see in their mind or a vision of what they see and transpose it onto a piece of paper. I don't have that ability. Okay. I was a good athlete; I wasn't a great athlete. Okay, it's not my ability. So, as I got further into my career with UPS, I knew how to motivate and get the most out of people by not necessarily directing them, but by asking them what they bring to the table. Where do you best fit in this organization? And how do you see yourself in this organization? So, success was through the people that I worked with - the teams that I had. And it really wasn't far because I usually had the best team. But I usually had the best team because of the way I chose to manage and treat them and use their skills.
Now, I'm retired. What motivates me? Not having to be on anyone's time. Any place, any time, in any particular time, other than those things that we choose. Because I was a manager with worldwide responsibility, 24/7. So 24/7 worldwide means 24/7. So, being able to extract myself from that just was great relief. And I look for things around me that motivate me. And I'm easily... I'm looking for the best in people and situations, so I have a pretty positive outlook on what I'm doing and why I'm here.
What does community mean to you?
Well, I think that there - again, large scale, small scale. Large scale: you know, this is Bend. This is 90, hundred thousand people, unfortunately the most of whom are in their own little worlds and have their own things to do or behind a cellphone or a PC or whatever the case may be. But that is a community. It may be a separated community, so to speak, that operates in little pods and circles of friends, but they are community. But then there's a community of... I was a board chair of an organization called The Family Connection Partnership in Georgia - statewide nonprofit. And there were a community of volunteers and people throughout the entire state whose entire focus were to build strategic plans to help change and impact each county in the state. So that was a community of people that had a purpose. So now you go from this big community to community of purpose. And then you get down to the community of the neighborhood. You can see those that say, Well, I live on the butte. I never say I live on the butte, you know? For the reason of some people just want to be associated with a neighborhood. It's not that I want to be associated with a neighborhood - we ended up here at this particular house because the market was starting to turn, the builder needed to get out from under it and made us an offer that we would have been a fool to refuse, so it just made great sense. Community goes from tight-knit groups with a purpose all the way out to singularly taking care of one's self and one's business. But I do believe that that large community can project an image - a feeling - without necessarily feeling that that's actually happening. It happens because you partake in particular things and those begin to project an image of a large community without you not necessarily knowing what that projection is.
What do you think one's role in community is given an assumption that connection is something we really need?
My father being a pastor - what he wanted to do and his lifelong dream was to build a church that offered childcare because so much of the income of the African American family would go to childcare - or substandard childcare - and he knew that by having a congregation he could offer high-quality childcare at a low cost and not be taxed. So, his vision, which he accomplished before he died, was to build that sanctuary and do that. So, that community ties in that it becomes supportive. But then again - my view - there's only a percentage of people within a community that are in that role. My father was in that role. And I was a part of that role because of my father. So then if you look at the religious community around Bend, different congregations take on different causes. For me personally, it means being respectful of everyone, okay? And being accepting and open and willing to share, willing to give - both in time and assets - if I truly believe that's gonna make life better for somebody else.
What does it feel like to be part of such a minority in a place like Bend?
I have to take you back to March of 1975. I went to rent a place. I had just moved here. I had a good friend that lived here. I was the best man at he and his wife's wedding. Went in. New apartment - duplex complex. And I went in with my wife at the time, my best friend, and I and inquired about an apartment. The manager said, Who's gonna live here and how many? And I said, Me, my wife, and my 14-month-old daughter. And the manager said, Oh no, you kind of people - you're not living here because whenever your type of people show up, there's trouble. My wife burst out of the room at that time. I stayed there, I looked at him, and I said, Well, you can rent me the place today or I'll own it tomorrow. Because most everyone understands pure economics at the granular level. So, I rented the placed. That was the start. At the time I got to Bend, I believe there were five black people in Bend. We all knew each other. And it was, as far as I'm concerned, it was just a redneck cowboy town at that point. Yet, being young, you could find a group of friends who didn't care what color you were. And there was this fairly large group of people around the same age who were part of the change. They didn't care what color you were.
But you have to understand, I've lived in Oregon, Iowa, New Jersey, L.A., Georgia, Louisiana - so I have lived in places where I am not such a minority and places where I am a minority - large minority - and I have found racism more prevalent in those places that actually have more people of color. Because, my opinion, that poses a threat. There are thousands, you know, I'll give you an example: our children would usually go to a school where there would be 20 children of color. And that's just separated by, you know, there a lot of socio-economic things that impact that and have impacted that. But when I moved to Atlanta, in our neighborhood there were 15 black families. And within the Atlanta metropolitan area, you find a huge black middle class. But when you leave the Atlanta metropolitan area, things changes pretty rapidly. It deteriorates. And then you go to Louisiana - it just was non-existent. You would think a state with as many people of color as Louisiana might have, you know, that you would see black wealth and prosperity. DIdn't see it. So then you go through the years from '75 - and I can give you blatant, blatant examples of racism in every place that I have every lived. Bend, today, I see more and more people of color every day. Makes me feel good. As I said, the police don't pull me over anymore to check out and see who I am. Every now and then there's just an incident that reminds me, you know, you're still a black man in a white society.
How do you find the grace to forgive the personal atrocity but also the historical?
I was sitting in on an interview with Andrew Young [and he] was asked that exact question. And his reply was they viewed those people - extreme racists - as being sick, just as if someone had cancer or some debilitating disease. That's how Andrew Young approached it. I approach it slightly differently in that if it presents itself, I'm going to address it and I'm going to address it head-on, at that moment, strong. I'm gonna come at ya. Maybe not violently, maybe verbally or otherwise, but I'm gonna come at ya. You're gonna know that I was there. But I'll give you an example (laughs). Years ago in Roseburg, I walked into a (laughs) bar/restaurant called - I still remember it and this is a long time ago, this is over 30 years ago, 35 years ago - it was called The Lariat Room. And we walked in and someone yelled from the back of the room, Get your black ass out of here! I was standing and I said, Throw me out. And then about five or six individuals stood up and I looked at my girlfriend and said, We gotta go. Okay, so you have to know where you are. That wasn't worth fighting for. It wasn't worth it. So, I do forgive people for their atrocities, yes. But I don't understand the ongoing proliferation of racism. I think we should be intelligent enough and far enough along to know that that process doesn't work.
And then I come back to Bend after I retired - although, I was here every year. My wife had family here. And we had a friend of a friend close to 90 years old, maybe 92 years old. And he found out he was terminal - he was dying. And he invited me. He wanted to talk to me. And so I went over. He wanted me to see a video. And it was a video about a young caucasian boy who used to visit an old black man that most of the other people ostracized or wouldn't relate with. And eventually the old black man died and the caucasian boy wanted to be at the funeral and everyone acquiesced so that he could be at the funeral. And, basically, this 92-year-old man asked me for forgiveness. And he said he didn't know. He didn't understand. And that he knows it was wrong. And he hoped that I would forgive him. And I told him that god would be his judge, but that I forgave him.
Do you have any idea where racism, but also hate for all differences, comes from?
Oh, that's (laughs) far deeper than I. But I know that if we were all the same color, we would pick out some difference (laughs) and find a way. I really don't know. I think that, psychologically, if you go back to early man, it was survival. I mean, there was a point where it was questionable as to whether the human race was going to survive because the mortality rate of infants was so high and the lifespans were so short. Which, by the way, is the reason some religions wanted to proliferate so quickly is because it was really, really touch and go for man. But I think that there's a struggle for survival - that I have to be on top. During those periods. And that need to feel that you're better, that you're on top, that you're in charge, means that somebody must be lesser in some dimension. And pick out that dimension and exploit it. But I'm not a psychologist. I haven't studied that; I have read books about early man and survival and early religion. But we will always find a reason to oppress someone for some reason.
What is one's responsibility in the fight against social injustice?
Again, everyone plays a different role, all the way from the activist to Dr. Martin Luther King - peaceful activist - to the Black Panthers who said no, who became a threat to America and who were murdered by authorities because of their thoughts without regard to the atrocities that they were suffering. The atrocities are real; people don't want to believe it. People think that because I'm a successful black man that the atrocities don't exist. You live in a world where gosh, it's gotta be a dream world. No, no, no, no, no - the atrocities still exist. They exist on a different level sometimes, yes. But they're still there. And the role in eliminating those for me - part of it is projecting an image and an attitude of, Yes, you can be successful. You don't have the right to give up. Giving up is the ultimate loss. Another part of that was doing volunteer work - working in schools in Georgia and seeing in the same school district - the Fulton County school district - the worst possible high school I could see and the best possible high school I've ever seen. Well, guess where the worst high school's located. In the black neighborhood.
I used to eat at Taco Bell on occasion and I ordered the same thing at Taco Bell all the time - I had a number one with a lemonade, or in Georgia you'd have a number one with a tea because sweet tea was big in Georgia. In the black neighborhood, that number one cost me $1.70 more than it did in Alpharetta, Georgia - the white neighborhood. So, speaking out for some people. Yes, I've spoken on occasion at different events. Volunteering, for some people, works - does well. Writing, for some people, does well. Upsetting my friends on Facebook when they just repost things that are just absolutely false. I will just merely comment, This is bullshit. It's not true. Don't post it. Try to stay out of the argumentative phase. Just state what it is. And if you have facts to back it up, then go ahead and show me the facts to back it up. So, different people take different routes.
My father had his way. I've had my way. Moving around the country, working in jobs, being the first black district manager. I was responsible for Louisiana and Mississippi and the UPS black employees looking up and saying, Are you kidding me? We actually have a black district manager? Developing and promoting the right people regardless of their race. But understand that when I got to Louisiana and Mississippi, 45% of the workforce was black, okay? 5% of the management was black. How's that happen? It doesn't. Being able to go in and develop and promote and give people opportunity that changes their lives, that offers their children to get a better education, to go to a better school, starts at the bottom and it moves on up. [That] was my responsibility because I was in business - large corporation. So after a few people were promoted in Louisiana that they didn't necessarily like, a group of managers got together and wrote a letter to corporate. And their letter to corporate basically said that they were being discriminated against and that the only people that had the opportunity to be promoted in Louisiana and Mississippi were either black or female. And they, I give them credit, they actually signed the letter and sent it to corporate. So, of course, corporate contacted me and we discussed it and I said, We'll have it taken care of. My H.R. manager who worked for me in the district at the time said, I got this. I got it. I got it. His name is Moises. And when we Moises says, I got it., he's got it. So we had a meeting and we brought in all of the managers and they sat in a meeting. And Moises gets up and he says, Some of you have decided to write a letter to corporate expressing the fact that the only people that had the chance to be promoted were either black or female and that you were being discriminated against. We had 36 delivery centers in the district, so then Moises put up an overhead that showed all 36 of the delivery centers and their performance over the last quarter. Then he went down to number 18 and he had a big, red line that went across at number 18. And he said, Do you notice something about this chart? Not one female and not one minority is below 18th. Everyone below 18 is a white male. So, if we're promoting the wrong people, why are there no females or minorities in the bottom half of the performance of this district? Pretty compelling. So, those people that we were capable of promoting and giving greater opportunity, then their children have the opportunity to go to better schools, to get a better education, have their education paid for, have better housing. Grass roots. Okay? Because I was in business for so long, that was my contribution and my way of helping to change the world.
What do you wish for the future?
Well, big question because the world is in such turmoil. Our country's in such turmoil. I have my third grandchild coming in May and I worry for my grandchildren that are we gonna have a world that has food, water, you know? That they can inhabit. The great migration due to climate change has already started to happen. We deny, or some of us deny, our part in it. I admit, I have played a part in it. So, I carry part of that responsibility moving forward. Racism - they say things get better. Yes, they do. But they get better slowly. Very, very slow. I walked into a restaurant bar here in Bend - this has been just a few years ago - and the bar you could eat at. It was fairly open and there was a woman there - well, there were several people there and two women sitting together - and the moment I walked into the door - and I was with a white friend of mine - she grabbed her purse. And the good part about was he noticed and he looked at me and said, I don't necessarily get that same reaction when I just walk in with my white friends. And I said, No, people have preconceived ideas about who you are, what you are. So, I think that we are intelligent enough to understand that. One of the things that both frightens me and enlightens me is artificial intelligence. Now, you could build racism into artificial intelligence. Or you could just allow it to be what it is without regard. I pray that it's used in the right way, in the right manner. I don't necessarily have great confidence that it's gonna be used in the right manner because man, for the most part, has pretty much manipulated things for financial gain. So, wherever the greatest financial gain stands to happen is probably where you'll find the largest proliferation.
Do you think it's possible for everybody that has a general sense of goodwill to bond together to be more unified in the fight against inequality?
Well, I don't think individual efforts are going to be exhausted because we've seen tremendous change happen. I've seen tremendous change in my lifetime. But even with tremendous change, okay, on several big issues about equality amongst all of us regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or otherwise... I mean, I think back to when I was in high school, there are things that take place today and that are accepted today that there [is] no possible way they would have been accepted at that point. So, call that progress. Yes. But what I don't believe is that we will eliminate the aspect of racism, sexism, or otherwise from existence. And those who are racist, sexist, or otherwise will try to proliferate just as those that go to Black Lives Matter or any other type of meeting try to proliferate and grow their ideas and their feelings. So does the hate group. So, their existence will continue. To try to tie those groups together, there are issues. Religious issues, I think, are some of the largest. Well, I'll fall back on religion. My religion says this, this, this, this, this. Well then, if you're capable of making a religious decision based on a business transaction, I think we're headed down a very slippery slope.
And we tend to gather with those we're comfortable with. And that are like thinkers. Which isn't necessarily bad because what happens is those groups, even though you or I or anyone else that they come in contact with may not go to the meetings and join the march or whatever the case may be, but at the same time, we don't discriminate. So, just by having that influence... as my parents always said, Whoever knocks on that front door is welcome. They have to come in and be respectful, okay, but whoever comes to that door is welcome. So, that's the way we raised our children. And that's what we believe. I do talk to the Jehovah's Witnesses that come to the door because I do have some religious background through my father. I purposely try to steer the conversation (laughs), okay? Yes, gay, lesbian - to issues that the church has problems with. Anyone can come to your door and tell you that Jesus was a great man and did great things. Hallelujah! That's good. So let's not tiptoe towards those issues which mean something to me. So, I will ask probing questions. Well, what do you believe about the gay community? What do you think about Buddhists? Do you think Buddhists get to go to heaven? What do you think about those people who are raised in countries that had never seen the Bible, never had the opportunity, who never heard of Jesus? Do they get to enter the gates of heaven? I like to get them to the point where they're uncomfortable or they have to address issues. And they're pretty good about it. I didn't see them for a while because they had brought a young mentee around and the way it was presented to me was, Can you afford to be wrong about this? And my answer was, Not any more than you can. My point there is, why don't you take an inward look and ask yourself exactly the same question. My friends will say, Why do you even talk to those people? Well, maybe I can cause them to expand their thinking just a little bit. Why should I let you in my house if you won't let a gay person in your church? I find it absolutely ridiculous.
You have anything else you want to leave this with?
Umm, can we go off the record for a minute?