Anthony S. Fugett has a huge rebuilding task ahead of him -- and he knows he needs help.
As the new head of Baltimore County's National Association for the Advancement of Colored People branch, the 46-year-old businessman has taken the helm of a chapter adrift in recent years amid infighting and charges of shoddy recordkeeping.
But Fugett -- a member of the NAACP's national board who plans to bring his private sector expertise to his new post -- chooses not to dwell on the past.
In a county where African-Americans are about 16 percent of the population, Fugett is determined to make the NAACP chapter an influential force.
"When I was elected, the first thing I said was that this is a new day begun in Baltimore County," said Fugett, elected president of the chapter Sept. 13. "Let's look forward and begin to build."
Those who know Fugett, a Cockeysville resident, are familiar with his take-charge attitude.
"He definitely doesn't lack enthusiasm," said Erik Nystrom, president, chief executive officer and Scout executive of the Baltimore-area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, where Fugett serves on the local board. "He's dedicated to the mission of extending the programs to more and more kids, in particular inner-city youngsters."
'Step up to the plate'
Radio personality Joe Madison, a former national board member and political director for the NAACP, said Fugett is to be commended for taking a greater role in the group.
"I wish that more people in Tony's position, that of a successful entrepreneur with tremendous resources, would step up to the plate and take a swing at leadership and involvement in the national chapter," said Madison.
Fugett is a half-brother of the late Reginald F. Lewis, who was one of the nation's leading black executives and CEO of TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc. before his death in 1993. His brother, Jean S. Fugett, is a businessman and former professional football player.
Anthony Fugett also sits on the board of directors of the Reginald F. Lewis Family & Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by his brother in 1987 that recently gave the NAACP $1 million to support summer youth business. And he is active in other nonprofit and education circles.
While Fugett says he enjoys working hard for others, he prefers to do it behind the scenes.
"I'm just not a public person," he said. "This role is going to be very different because I just never put myself out there before."
An avid golfer, self-professed "sometimes workaholic" and husband and father of four daughters ages 28 to 10, Fugett says he has "to get things done today. I can't put it off until tomorrow."
It's a work ethic he displayed while growing up in West Baltimore. After graduating from Cardinal Gibbons High School in 1971, he worked several jobs before obtaining a degree in business administration from the University of Baltimore in 1977.
After feeling that his career growth was being stunted at IBM in Nebraska, Fugett moved his young family to Washington, D.C., where he quickly advanced as a marketing representative in IBM's Bethesda office.
He spent a dozen years with IBM -- becoming a systems engineer -- and struck out on his own in 1989, forming ASF Systems, a Baltimore-based distributor of personal computer products. The company, which has 15 employees, helped establish Fugett's reputation as a business leader.
"I believe that the NAACP is a business, and it is in the business of civil rights," Fugett said. "I have been groomed at the national level, and I am ready."
Fugett said he will work to increase the local chapter's membership, which is less than 1,000. He plans to increase the group's outreach to churches and other community groups.
Those goals are consistent with a national agenda set by NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who has often pointed to grass-roots efforts as one of the organization's strengths. John C. White, a spokesman for the NAACP, said Fugett's election is a step in the right direction.
"One of Mr. Mfume's chief goals, since the national headquarters is in Baltimore, was to strengthen all of the local branches, and we think that the election of Mr. Fugett will help strengthen the Baltimore County branch," White said.
In setting the policy agenda, Fugett said, he will focus on economic development and education, creating a report card to address the county's strengths and weaknesses.
'Asking the tough questions'
He said he hopes the group would be "asking the tough questions" of county officials about minority contracting, recruiting and hiring practices.
In the education arena, Fugett said there is concern about minority student performance. With Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione preparing to retire, Fugett said, the NAACP wants to "have input in the selection of the next superintendent."
He also said he will work to build bridges with other minority groups in the county, such as the growing Hispanic and Asian communities.
"The time has come when minorities have to work together, to benefit us all," Fugett said.
Some worry that Fugett may be biting off more than he can chew, given the branch's recent internal problems.
Former branch President Patricia Cook-Ferguson was removed from office earlier this year after national officials ruled that she had not been a dues-paying member since 1997. Officials at the national headquarters debated whether to close the branch after learning it was in disarray, with sloppy financial records and complaints about a lack of community involvement.
"The branch is in such trouble, and I don't know if it is going to be able to get his full attention," said Bernetha George, who ran against Fugett for the chapter's presidency. "He certainly is capable, but he is a very busy man, and he is going to need a lot of help."
To counter such those worries, Fugett said he wants to appoint two vice presidents, a secretary and up to 24 executive committee members.
"I'm looking for a cohesive team that can take the branch to the next level under my leadership," Fugett said. "My mother was always a grass-roots type of person, and I guess that's where I get it from."