MUNSTER | The knowledge and skills Stephen Mays has learned as a longtime businessman are the tools he says he brings to social issues.
An award-winning State Farm agent since 1989, Mays is president of the Gary Chapter of the NAACP and is a member of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors and Gary Chamber of Commerce.
Mays is a nominee for the 2014 Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award given by the Gary Frontiers Service Club.
"I like to be a behind-the-scenes kind of guy," Mays said. "It gets so frustrating and discouraging."
It was only a year ago that Mays assumed the NAACP presidency after serving as vice president for about eight years.
"The issues of the ’60s are not the issues today," Mays said. "The fight has totally changed."
Today, economic sustainability through financial literacy, education and political action are key to improving the quality of life for those he serves in the NAACP, Mays said.
"I'm big on financial literacy. ... It's my passion, my mission," he said.
Financial knowledge can be life-changing, he said.
Mays said he was blessed with a teacher mother and businessman father who set standards and had high expectations.
While that held him in good stead, Mays said: "I have learned that what is normal (to me) is not normal to many."
Mays spoke of teaching young people about the Truth in Lending Act and how to make a return on an investment.
"Afterward, they look at things differently," he said.
Witnessing their new knowledge is gratifying, he said.
Over the years, Mays has worked to develop relationships with civic and community leaders in East Chicago, Hammond, Gary and Munster to focus on common social issues.
"I realized I had a social responsibility early in my career," Mays said.
That has led him to roles with the Gary Boys & Girls Club, Urban League of Northwest Indiana and Gary Historical and Cultural Society.
Through his business affiliations, he has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to people, organizations and programs to bring about economic equality. As a consultant, he has mentored many small businesses.
One of his proudest accomplishments was in organizing a group of men that attended the Million Man March 1995 and an anniversary observance later, he said.
"I've always been an agency of service," Mays said.
A graduate of Theodore Roosevelt High School, Mays has an undergraduate degree in regional planning and a master's degree in public administration from Ball State University.
The Drum Major nominees, called marchers, are recognized for having dedicated their lives to improving the human condition, something Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. urged in his "Drum Major Instinct" sermon two months before his assassination.