The Southern Christian Leadership Conference announced Monday that businessman and former Alabama state senator Charles Steele Jr. is its new chief executive officer.
Steele, flanked by dozens of supporters in front of SCLC’s Auburn Avenue offices, said one of his first priorities as CEO of the civil rights group that boasts Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of its founders will be to improve the Atlanta-based organization’s “very, very dismal” finances.
Sound economic footing is something the SCLC is striving toward, said Steele, who runs an East Point-based consulting firm. “As much as we love the church, SCLC is not the church. Although we have Christian principles, it is a business and we have to run it like a business.”
The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native said he wanted to build a corporate roundtable board of international and domestic companies that can each commit between $75,000 and $100,000 annually. “We’ve got to have movement and we’re going to have it, but movement costs.”
To underscore that point, Steele said referred to building behind him — the $3.5 million headquarters — which was once debt-free but was recently in danger of foreclosure.
Money raised, he said, would benefit SCLC programs. The organization, which will hold its national convention in Florida later this month, is still looking for a new president after Isaac Newton Farris Jr., King’s newphew, was ousted.
Steele, 65, served as SCLC president from 2004 through part of 2008 and is credited with spearheading efforts to have a new SCLC headquarters built and increasing membership.
He returns to SCLC as it continues to go through crisis. It has been hampered by infighting and financial and legal problems.
Jelani Cobb, director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut, said he doubts that Steele’s return will be “the prescription to get the patient back to good health.”
For others, though, Steele’s return was met with approval.
“He has the credibility that we need now,” said the Rev. Samuel F. Mosteller, president of the SCLC’s Georgia chapter. “He is well-known in the corporate arena and is recognized on a national level.”
The Rev. Bernard LaFayette Jr., chairman of the board, said Steele will help rebuild the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Without a man like Steele, he said, “we would be moving a lot slower.” Now “we will move swiftly into the future.”
Charles Steele Jr.
Hometown: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Family: Married to Cathelean Steele. The couple has two adult children and two grandchildren.
Professional experience: Former Alabama state senator; owner, Charles Steele & Associates