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David Stern's Work To Fight Housing Discrimination

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern, who died this week, transformed the league into the global institution it is today. But Stern also leaves behind a legacy off the court in the world of housing. In the 1970s, he was the president of the Fair Housing Council, a nonprofit in Bergen County, N.J. fighting housing discrimination.

Lee Porter, who has been the executive director of the FHC since 1971, worked with David Stern, and she joins us now. Welcome to the program.

LEE PORTER: Thank you.

FADEL: So tell us about Mr. Stern's work with FHC. What kind of cases did he work on?

PORTER: He counseled people who were looking for housing for sale or for rent, and if they were ready, willing, and able to purchase or rent and couldn't do it, we wanted to know why. Most nearly all the time, it was discrimination.

FADEL: How widespread was housing discrimination in New Jersey at that time, and who was affected?

PORTER: Discrimination was very, very prevalent. It was all over New Jersey, all over Bergen County - discrimination based upon race and color, sometimes religion and other minority status as well.

FADEL: Ms. Porter, when I think of David Stern and when many people think of David Stern, they think of him running an organization and working for some of the wealthiest people in this country, but he started out working for some of the poorest. What were his biggest accomplishments with the Fair Housing Council?

PORTER: Maybe our work here helped season him for the NBA because it was a lot of race and color. You had to be almost like a judge. You had to keep your cool. He was very good at negotiating and helping the lawyers, younger lawyers coming into the Fair Housing Council and working with the board of directors. We never paid him. This was a volunteer position.

FADEL: Did he ever tell you why he volunteered his time? Why do you think he gave his time to this type of work?

PORTER: Well, he was like the rest of us. We grew up in New York, New Jersey, and we had seen discrimination. We understood that we could do something about it, and we did, and he did.

FADEL: Now is housing discrimination - you said it's less, but is it gone in Bergen County today?

PORTER: We still know that the race and color discrimination - religion - is still out there. We also have to combat and deal with discrimination based upon sex, senior citizens, and people who are disabled. There's still a big job to be done.

FADEL: How will you remember Mr. Stern, and how do you hope people will remember him?

PORTER: Dynamic, but quiet, laid back, determined to get the job done, friendly. I think we accomplished so much due to David Stern and his personality and his perseverance.

FADEL: That's Lee Porter, executive director of the Fair Housing Council in Bergen County, N.J. Jersey. Thank you.

PORTER: OK, you're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE OCEAN BLUE'S "F MAJOR 7") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.