Sacramento pastor Tecoy Porter sees his ‘call to action,’ announces bid for California Senate


Tecoy Porter, whose Meadowview church became a touchstone for a community shaken by the 2018 police killing of Stephon Clark and who has spoken forcefully on the “twin pandemics” of racism and COVID-19, will announce his candidacy Sundayfor the California state Senate’s 6th District seat.

Porter, 50, is pastor of Genesis Church Sacramento, the south Sacramento worship center now in its 21st year, and a state director of National Action Network, the political action and civil rights organization led by The Rev. Al Sharpton. The announcement to contend for the District 6 seat now held by state Sen. Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, marks Porter’s first bid for public office. 

He follows longtime Sacramento City Councilwoman Angelique Ashby, who announced her bid in July. City Councilman Eric Guerra and former state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones are also considering running for the seat.

In an exclusive interview with The Sacramento Bee in the days before his announcement, Porter discussed his decision to run, his platform of equity, equal access to education and economic recovery and the lessons he learned coming from a family of ministers in his native St. Paul, Minnesota. 

“My father always taught me to believe what I preach. He was the example of a Black preacher being concerned about more than his own church. He was a pastor of our community,” Porter said. Dr. Robert Porter marched with the civil rights leaders of Tecoy Porter’s childhood, his church like many in the Black community a catalyst for social justice activism.

Porter said his announcement on the weekend of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is no coincidence, a sign that he is “ready to move beyond the pulpit as an extension of that.” Porter said he would continue to pastor at Genesis if elected. 

“Growing up, I remembered bomb scares in my church when things were really tight,” Porter said. “To me, this (running for public office) is a continuation of being taught that.”

Those lessons were on Porter’s mind in late May. His sermon that Sunday, days after George Floyd died under the knee of a white police officer on the south Minneapolis street corner Porter’s bus used to pass on the way to school, called out police brutality and “the sin of racism.”

“This hits home for me,” Porter said of Floyd’s death during the May 31 sermon. “We need to call out racism and call it sin.”

From the pulpit, Porter also levied a challenge to fellow faith leaders that hinted at his own path.

“We’re heavenly bound but no earthly good. We’ve been hiding behind pulpits, behind choirs. We’ve been cowards but we have to change that because I don’t want to see my sons die, I don’t want to see your sons die just because of the color of their skin,” Porter said in his sermon. “We have to confront racism now. We have to do something about it.”

That was on his mind again last week in the aftermath of the extremist mob that terrorized the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 to try to stop the election certification of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. The rioting left five people dead including a U.S. Capitol police officer, led to scores of arrests and, on Wednesday, the second impeachment of outgoing President Donald Trump on the charge of “inciting an insurrection.”

Last August, Porter and his family were in Washington, D.C., for the Commitment March on Washington marking the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

“I was stunned. It shows the privilege that’s out there, the disparity,” Porter said. “This is what my children will have to read about in the history books. It’s their 9/11. It’s a call to action for everybody.” 

But it was another galvanizing event two years earlier, the death of Stephon Clark at the hands of Sacramento police, that inspired Porter’s decision to run, he said. Genesis Church sits in the same Meadowview neighborhood where Clark was shot dead after officers pursued him into his grandmother’s backyard.

Today, a charter school built on the Genesis campus features a walkway that looks out at Clark’s grandmother’s home.

As protesters took to Sacramento streets and agitated at the state Capitol to demand police reforms, Porter was approached by community members and parishioners about running for Sacramento City Council. He would instead establish a Sacramento chapter of National Action Network and work with Capitol lawmakers including San Diego assemblywoman, now-California Secretary of State Shirley Weber, on AB 392, the police use-of-force law that went into effect last year. It set stringent standards on when officers can use deadly force.

In the days after Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, Porter would also sponsor legislation by Assemblyman Mike Gipson, D-Paramount, barring police from using carotid artery chokeholds to detain people. Genesis was also the site of a “listening session,” with Gov. Gavin Newsom and Black community leaders after demonstrations in Sacramento.

Porter and his family in the Twin Cities were also among the ministers who helped plan and coordinate Floyd’s Minneapolis memorial service last June. Civil rights leaders including The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Martin Luther King III, joined state and national political leaders, then-presidential candidate Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and an overflow crowd to bid farewell.

“The grief was magnified by the way he was murdered….The grief was a strong part of the atmosphere,” Porter told The Bee following the service. “But there was also hope. It was that it was a global event that made it very unique.”

He talked with National Action Network officials, friends, supporters before deciding instead to focus on a run for state office.

“Working for all Californians and being a voice in that space — after Clark, I started thinking about it,” Porter said. “It was a big decision that I didn’t take lightly. And, I think there’s a pathway to winning.”

For the Elk Grove husband and father of two sons and a daughter (wife, Karlette, is a data center manager and a church outreach director) education sits atop his platform.

Genesis partnered with Fortune School, the Sacramento-area network of public charter schools focused on closing the African American achievement gap. A K-5 elementary school campus that bears Porter’s name opened at Genesis last fall.

“I come from a social justice background. Education is a big issue with me,” Porter said. “Not all children have an equal education — they aren’t being equally served in public education. I have three kids. They all went to Cosumnes Oaks (High School in Elk Grove).” His sons are now attending college. “I’m not against public school, but I know the value of school choice,” he said.

Tackling COVID-19’s combined tolls will be an immediate and lasting challenge for lawmakers. Porter said he will bring his work and leadership in social justice and business education — he earned a master’s degree in business administration from Sacramento State — to the state Capitol.

“California has been devastated by this. We’re almost a year into (the pandemic) and we went from being a model to being overrun by this. It’s like a wave coming at you,” Porter said. “It’s going to take a lot to recover — for communities to recover, for businesses to recover.”

Porter said it will take a diversity of voices at the Capitol to solve it. 

“Representation matters. One thing I’ve learned is that you have to be at the table. If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” he said. “I’m not an established politician, I’m a pastor at heart. I’m from Minnesota, but I’m a product of Sacramento and I want to make sure everyone has a seat at the table.”

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