Cecil Steppe has held senior leadership positions, received numerous awards and helped form San Diego. His success, however, was not easy. It was achieved through a “possible” attitude learned at the beginning of life.
Born in 1933, Steppe moved to Kentucky a year later to live with his mother and two older siblings in a house on Imperial Avenue.
His mother was a trained teacher, but San Diego would not hire black teachers. So he became a domestic worker to help his family.
“I knew how much work he was doing,” he said. “He motivated me. I’ve always wanted to be proud. “
However, he had many tutors. Imperial Avenue merchants taught the basics of Steppe trades. Church members helped to instill religious values. And she was encouraged by her mother and family and encouraged that positive attitude that she “can do”.
Steppe said these values helped lead to a constructive path that included childhood friends like Earl Gilliam, who became the first Black judge in San Diego, and away from negative community behaviors.
Like many in the 1940s and 1950s, Estepea was afraid to visit some neighborhoods because of stories about Black attacks. “As a black person, I didn’t want to be caught in the dark at La Jolla,” he said.
There were no black police or teachers in San Diego at the time. Steppe’s aunt founded the Women’s Civil League, which fought to remove such racial barriers, and her mother was a member.
“After a lot of fighting and heartache, they were able to get the first black teacher in San Diego,” Stepp said, noting that they helped bring in the first black police officer.
“My aunt asked the young people in the neighborhood to come to their meetings. We have learned to push hard what you want. Don’t pray. Win it. ”
There is a banner on Market Street today celebrating the history of the Black and honoring Aunt Rebecca Craft of the Steppe.
After four years of high school and four years in the Air Force, Steppe earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Western California. It took him eight years to get a full-time job at the university in the mechanical unit of a bus company, sometimes working until 1am.
In 1964, he was hired by San Diego County. For 35 years he climbed the ladder to leadership positions. He began as a junior probation officer, supervising criminals in custody, and in 1982 worked as a senior surveillance officer.
He was the director of social services for 1992, where he oversaw a $ 900 million budget and supervised 3,800 employees, a position he held until his retirement in 1999.
With each charge, Steppe’s “possible” attitude helped him to move forward and promote change.
While in the Test Department, he confused the “nonsense” of supervising criminals with custody with a push that could change. Among other things, he set up the Official Oversight Unit, with five officers and 30 volunteers, to prevent young people from misbehaving and helping adults gain employment in order to avoid court involvement.
The unit inspired similar programs elsewhere.
While leading the Department of Social Services, Steppe advocated for local and state-wide welfare reform to strengthen employment and training programs and lead welfare recipients to self-sufficiency.
Since retiring, he has served on or served on many boards of directors, including Save our Children, Reading Legacies, Gompers Preparatory Academy (in partnership with UCSD), and the San Diego Urban League.
He has received numerous awards, including the nomination of leading African American models and the Rotary Club’s “Mr. San Diego. ”
Steppe and his wife, Evelyn, whom he met in high school, were married at the age of 59. He died in 2015. She has five grown children, 12 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, all of whom have a “do-it-yourself” attitude, says Steppe.
Steppe grew up on Imperial Avenue, appreciating his neighborhood and avoiding the negatives around him, but fearing other neighborhoods. Today, he is an icon who helped shape San Diego.
About this series
Jan Goldsmith is a member of the UT Community Advisory Board. He is a lawyer and former attorney, judge, state attorney, San Diego city attorney, and Poway mayor.
Someone San Diego Should Know is a column written by members of the UT Community Advisory Board about local people who are interesting and noteworthy for their experiences, accomplishments, creativity, or credentials.
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