Select Video Clip...
Biographical Details of Leadership
Contemporary Lens on Black Leadership
Historical Focus on Race
BOND: Dr. Flake, welcome to Explorations in Black Leadership.
FLAKE: Thank you. I'm glad to be here.
BOND: I'm going to begin with some questions about the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. Can you remember what you thought about it at the time? You must have been quite young.
FLAKE: I was nine years old at the time. But it was of such magnitude that my parents locked into it. Because they realized that here were their children taking a bus, going past white schools, out into the country essentially to a black school where there was this sense that we were obviously being educated, but why should we have to ride fourteen miles on a bus to do that? So I recall my father taking a position that – along with some of the neighbors in our community – that either we ought to have a school in our community or we ought to go to the white school. And on one morning when he took off from work, which was a shock because he was truly a workaholic and had to be to provide for a large family like ours. And the parents drove over to Recreation Acres, to that white school. And from that day on, there was a different attitude. They built a school in our community. And had it not been for Brown v. Board of Education, that just would not have happened.
BOND: Now, although you were nine years old, do you think you had larger expectations of Brown beyond your immediate situation? And did your parents have larger expectations beyond their own children?
FLAKE: I think – certainly. I think the coming together of those parents was clearly indicative of the fact that they dared to believe that there was something better, that there was something greater that their kids would be able to do. For me personally, it did not resonate as much then as it did later on as I began to do my assessment, by the time I got into college, of really, what does it mean to have a good education? And where are we going to be by the time I become an adult and begin to raise my family? And I think the impact then of Brown v. Board of Education has started to take some negative tone with me. Because I could see the results of a lot of my colleagues in my age category who were not benefiting. Even though we had access to better – what we considered to be better – educational opportunities. Because we saw many of those principals and teachers that had taught us while we were segregated who were not even a part of education any longer. Because they shut down schools. They turned my high school into a vocational school. And we saw that happen throughout. And then we began to wonder if, in fact, that even the issue of integration was a valuable one, in that we were losing a part of ourselves in that, which represented the essence of our history, was no longer what it had been in the past.
BOND: That's perfect for the next question. Looking back, it's almost fifty years now – what has it turned out to mean? Your parents were hopeful. You were hopeful. Great promise here. What has it turned out to mean?
FLAKE: Well, one of the things I did as we came to the turn of the century was try to do a retrospective on the things that we thought were meaningful at certain junctures in my life and what I expected to have happened by the turn of the century. And one of my greatest disappointments is the reality that the majority of minority students are not getting the kind of education that I think was the intention of Brown v. Board of Education. And certainly was the dream and hope of parents like mine who assumed that if they got into the proper environment, they would be educated. There was this sense, you know, that if you put black kids and white kids together, it would work. The tragedy of it is that the buses still only ran one way. We took black kids out of their communities into white communities, but rarely did the buses come back. So that when you look at Ernie Green and that group from the Little Rock Seven and Central High School, what you realize is that beyond them, there was a real reversal in terms of giving a complete access to all of that was available for other students to African-American students. And even as we move to middle-class status, the reality became many of our kids, even in those white schools, were at the back of the classroom or were not getting the kind of education that we thought this whole integration process would bring about. That by no means suggests that I don't believe that we have to be an integrated society. But a reality that I think we lost some benefits that we really had gained in segregation.
BOND: Again, looking back at it, do you put the blame for the loss of black teachers, the loss of black institutions, the erasure of memory of black achievement, all of this happening as the result of Brown, is the blame on Brown or the implementation of Brown? And who's to blame for the implementation?
FLAKE: Yeah, I think the blame clearly is on the implementation of Brown. I mean, its intent was clearly a pure one. But I think that the impurity came about by virtue of persons who had control and power within Boards of Education and systems throughout this country who made a determination that in order for them to implement it, it meant that they had to continue to maintain their power. And maintaining that power meant that if we're going to integrate, obviously we're not going to have a disintegration as it relates to white schools or white teachers or white principals. And therefore, those who would suffer would be those who would had by them been classified as not having competency. Yet, in spite of what they considered to be their lack, they were able to take kids who came off the cotton fields, kids who did not have basic parents who could educate them, who were able to make some of the finest graduates and send them to college and bring them out as professionals in a way that we're not doing today.
BOND: Who, including your parents, helped you develop as a young man? Who had influence on you as a young man?
FLAKE: I guess that there are several people. One of them – two of them are teachers. Mrs. Greis and Mrs. Houston. Mrs. Greis in elementary school because in one particular year when I had to stay out of school – I had I guess what was classified as emphysema – and I could not be in the midst of other students. Mrs. Greis, who lived in a place called Grapeland, Texas, but taught in Cornville, which was about a hundred miles from where she lived. And then I lived fourteen miles from the school. But every Friday, she brought homework to me and picked up the homework from the week before. And she did that religiously for a whole school year. And it just had an impact on my life. Because I probably learned more in that year than I probably would have learned if I had been in school because I had personal attention from her.
And then Mrs. Houston because by the time I got to high school and had graduated from eighth grade, honor student, I got into high school and started drifting a little bit. But Mrs. Houston had known me because of church connection and took me under her wing, literally. Because after lunch, I had to go into the bookstore where she was the book steward for the school. And my responsibility was literally to work there. But more importantly, she forced me to deal with homework and make me function. And then after school, because I was one of the youth leaders in the church groups, and though she was a member of another church – I was in an AME denomination – she took me all over the state of Texas. And I became Boy of the Year. I became president of what we call the Richard Allen Youth Council, NYPD and all those youth programs. So, she played a major role in helping me to develop leadership skills. So by the time I was fifteen, I was leading several groups in the whole state of Texas.
And then Reverend [O.L.] Dawson, who was my pastor. I would go to church Sunday mornings and I did not come home in the afternoons. If he went out to preach, I was out to preach – went out with him. And so by fifteen, I was preaching. And he helped to nurture and develop me by having me preach every Sunday night for the Sunday night services. So, by the time I was nineteen, I was already pastoring. So those three people outside of my parents really played major roles in my life.
BOND: What about your parents? What role did they play? I mean, everyone's parents generally nurtured, they're nurtured and developed. But what about your parents?
FLAKE: Yeah, they were -- I mean, with Mother and Daddy, what they did was phenomenal. As I said before, they were fifth and sixth-grade educated. But formal education was not really what defined who they were. My daddy could read. He learned to read after going into the Army. Mother could read. But more importantly, what they did was -- Mother could not work, Daddy did not allow her to work. Rather than that, he worked three jobs himself. So he would come -- he would leave in the mornings, go to his day job, come in the afternoons. We cleaned up office buildings at night. And so one of the boys would have to go to work with him. So we developed a work ethic real early in life. So, whichever boy did not go to work with him was home working. Mother taught us all how to cook and wash and iron and sew. She demonstrated love to us in ways that only a mother who was home taking care of children could. And we had to clean up the house before we left for school. We'd come home. Whichever boy did not go with Daddy to clean up the office buildings, he'd go to bed. Three o'clock in the morning, he'd be back up. We threw the morning paper. So whichever boy didn't go to the office would be rolling up the papers, throwing them across the front seat. He'd drive around the neighborhood throwing the papers out of the window. Go back home, sleep for about an hour and a half. And then he'd get up to go to work. We'd get up to go to school. One child would be cooking. One child cleaning the bathroom. One child cleaning the bedroom. And when we left, I mean, the house was clean.
So my mother was just there. I mean, she's the one who took us to church on Sunday mornings until Daddy accepted Christ and started coming himself. And they were a family. And if they ever argued, we don't know that they did. And I'm sure they did -- because after twenty-six years of marriage, I realize it's impossible for them not to have done it -- but what they demonstrated for us was a kind of love not only for each other, but they made us learn how to love each other. And I think that's been expressive in all of our lives in how we interact and how we interface with people. And I think it's been a powerful influence in my ministry and my work in politics because I'm basically a people-person. And I gained that through the experience of having a mother who was that way. Everybody in the neighborhood knew her, and they would come to her with their problems. And so we learned how to have respect for people, how to live among people and love people.
BOND: Were there people in the neighborhood – not teachers, not ministers – adults that you said, "Gee, I want to be like Mr. Johnson. I want to be like Mrs. Brown," or something. Were there adult figures who didn't directly interact with you but who had an influence on you?
FLAKE: Yeah, we had a guy named Mr. [Wesley A.] Boyd, I guess, who was the most influential. Mr. Boyd was a teacher, a basketball coach, baseball coach, and owned a funeral home. And everybody gravitated to Mr. Boyd. He just had a natural ability to connect. We looked up to him. When he opened his funeral business, it grew because everybody -- if anything happened to anybody, they would say, "Call Mr. Boyd." And Mr. Boyd just looked out for every kid. He was there for you when you needed him. And I think he was one of the most influential. But it was kind of a neighborhood where neighbors helped to raise everybody's child. And so you knew if something happened on another street even away from your own home that that person was not only going to take the opportunity to chastise you themselves, but they would also report that to my mother.
BOND: So you could be chastised again.
FLAKE: And so you'd be chastised again. And if it was severe enough, you'd have a third chastisement. Because she would also tell your daddy -- tell you, "Wait until Daddy comes home." So, you grow up in that kind of environment, though, you have a real sense of what's right and what's wrong and how to make good choices.
BOND: Now, I understand you began preaching at an early age.
BOND: But it was only later that you actually professionally become a minister. How'd that happen?
FLAKE: Well, in reality, I guess I've always been that. I mean, I was pastoring at nineteen, but I was also in school. I was also waiting tables at the Biltmore Hotel in Dayton, Ohio, and serving meals at the [university] president's house and working in the cafeteria. So, for me it's always been ministry plus something else. The Bible talks about other things being added unto. When I left Ohio to go out to Lincoln as Associate Dean of Students, the reality is out there I took a church. I was pastor of Second Presbyterian in Westchester. When I got to Boston, I pastored a church in Newport, Rhode Island, until the chaplain died and they asked me to be university chaplain. And so, in every instance – when I was with Xerox, I was pastoring a church. When I was in Boston, I had a church also. And when I was in Congress, I had a church. So I've always ministered. And then everything else has been added unto. And I think that's been valuable for me.
BOND: But a day has to come -- because there was a period when you were a social worker.
FLAKE: I was a social worker and I was also a minister.
BOND: But the social work was your profession?
FLAKE: That was -- that was what I was training for.
BOND: And the day has to come though when you decide "I'm not going to be a social worker -- "
FLAKE: Oh, yeah.
BOND: "I'm going to be a minister."
FLAKE: Well, actually, because my degree was in psychology, I was doing social work. But that day came when I was working in a halfway house in Philadelphia as a co-op student. And one of the patients in that house -- and we were trying to transition people for work and life after being in Byberry, the State Hospital, or in Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute -- and we would bring them into this halfway house. And when I went up to see a young man who had taken an overdose and realized that I could not possibly be a psychologist or social worker because I carried the burden of the people. And that kind of burden would probably ultimately destroy me. You do that in ministry as well, but there's a difference. Because you dare to believe that there is a possibility for cure and healing. In that other environment, the psychological environment, I did not get a sense after a while that you could heal everybody. And so for me, I think that was when I realized I was definitely going to seminary. And rather than going on and getting a master's in psychology, that ministry was going to be a part of my life. But because I was in the AME church, I also said that I did not ever want to pastor full time. And so I tried to balance off this bi-vocational approach to life until the Lord just finally got me and forced me for at least a season to be full-time in ministry. But subsequent to that, I've always been bi-vocational.
BOND: Now, we're attempting to get at leadership and how leadership develops. And I'm wondering, looking back on your formal education, the school, the college, and other aspects, what part of that made you whom you are today, the leader that you are today?
FLAKE: I think that --
BOND: You talked a moment ago about being involved in youth activities in the school and so on. How did that -- ?
FLAKE: I think, when I go back, it probably starts from that early age, realizing that for some reason people kind of looked to me as a leader. By the time I got to college at Wilberforce, the president, the dean, were calling on me to do things that -- it started out, I suspect, that I was serving, waiting tables in their homes and the like. And before long, I found myself driving the university car to pick up guests, like Dr. King when he came to do commencement. I was in peer counseling, one of the leaders in peer counseling. I ran the actual Wednesday night chapel services. So, before long, I think that people just had a sense that "this guy's a leader," and people were calling me to take positions.
BOND: Why did they have that sense?
FLAKE: Students kind of gravitated to me.
FLAKE: There was a level of maturity, I think --
BOND: Why did they gravitate to you?
FLAKE: I think that was some sense there was a level of maturity. I was trying to do things right, to the degree that you do right as a college student. I was also preaching young. And we had our Sunday afternoon services. And I was preaching pretty regularly with that. I think it's just a natural part of whatever God gave me in my makeup that just kind of projected me. I've never had to push myself. I've never had to even seek for a position. When I came to New York to pastor, I was invited to do it. When I went to Lincoln, I was invited to come by Dr. [Herman] Branson and Dr. Carl Thomas. When I went to Boston, I was invited to come and take the position to initially run the Dr. Martin Luther King African-American Center. And when I ran for Congress, the people in the community asked me to run. So I think it's something I don't -- I cannot pinpoint. But whatever it is, it's there. Other people see it more than I do. Because I'm constantly talked to by staff and the like about the fact that I don't seem to exert or push myself. They want me to do it even more. But I haven't had to do that. Because whatever it is, it's somewhat natural.
BOND: But you must have set an example others could see. And so people say, "There's Flake. He's a leader." What is it? It's not just maturity. It's not just preaching.
FLAKE: A lifestyle. You know, I've always tried to live to a standard. If you read my book, I talked about the fact of trying to remain chaste until I was twenty-one. My children find that to be distasteful, that one would even be thinking of waiting until they were an adult and married. But the reality is, I think, lifestyle choice for me was not to get into a drug culture, was not to get into alcohol. And those things in a marginal, minimal way -- I tested alcohol and didn't like it. I even tested cigarettes when I was fourteen and didn't like it. So the very things that most of my peers were doing was not things that I was doing. And I think they saw me in a different way. They responded to me in a different way. And generally, if there was a need for a leader, they asked if I would do it. And again, I've never had to push myself. So it's been -- I can't pinpoint all of the things. I mean, being a man of God, I would have to say this was God's purpose and my destiny was somehow tied to his sense that -- that I ought to be in some leadership capacity.
BOND: You come form a large family -- thirteen children.
FLAKE: Thirteen of us.
BOND: Do any of your siblings exhibit similar or comparable leadership traits?
FLAKE: Yeah, I think most of us -- there's only one in our family that I can honestly say does not have that same kind of drive, commitment to some measure of excellence, and an ability to, even when knocked down, actually get up and do better. I'll give a classic example. My sister who is thirteen months behind me, pregnant, marriage broke up. Everything seemed to be falling apart, trying to raise three daughters. But somehow, she picked herself up, went and got her insurance broker's license, got a cosmetology license, and now travels all over the country teaching other people how to do all these new hairstyles and weaves and the like. And it goes all the way down to my baby sister, who is now a leader in the Urban League in Houston, in providing leadership for people coming off the welfare to work programs and the like. So it's evident. We only have one member of our family that it has been difficult. Because he got caught up in the drug culture and has not been able to rebound. But for the most part, everybody's doing extremely well. My older brother who is a manager -- in management with Foley's Department stores down in Houston. In a year, he was in a top management position. So it's just that kind of driven -- the sense that comes when one has -- I'm not sure being a workaholic is a great thing. I am certain that people notice you when they know that you have a sense about yourself that, "I know what my responsibilities are. And not only am I going to perform, but I'm going to do it with some measure of excellence."
BOND: It's obvious a point comes when other people recognize that in you. When did you recognize that in you?
FLAKE: I think I recognized that in me probably in the early stages of my college career.
BOND: Not in the lower grades? Not in high school?
FLAKE: To some degree, lower grades. But then -- you know, you were in leadership, but there was a difference in terms of how you saw yourself, how I saw myself. I think it emerged -- when it really emerged, I think, was when I was called to come and pastor in the place of a man who had had a heart attack. And he asked me if I would take the church and do all the ministerial functions at the age of nineteen. I think that's the first time I really, really started feeling like a leader. Because I had been thrust with this responsibility for a church of about three hundred people. And he was in no condition to do anything. And from then on, I began to rise in the ministry from that place.
BOND: In that instance, was there any sense that you could say, "No. I can't do this. This is too much. Too big for me"?
FLAKE: No, no. I never thought about it. I've never felt overwhelmed about anything. As a matter of fact, for me, anytime something new has come, I've seen that as just another opportunity to broaden my capabilities and broaden my horizons. This whole thing and that book Prayer of Jabez talk about extending your influence and extending who you are. I've always felt comfortable in believing that. If it was offered, it was an opportunity to extend and expand my capabilities to do more things.
BOND: Let's see if we can't get into some of these philosophies that create Floyd Flake. Can you see a difference between vision, philosophy, and style? Are they the same thing for you? Are they different? How do these -- ?
FLAKE: No, they're not different. I see vision as being able to kind of look and see things that are not as though they are. To dare to believe that whatever is out there – I may not be able to see it in the reality of the now – but something -- there is something out there that I know I have not been able to do. And my vision tied to my reality brings me to a perception that allows me to be able to go beyond what I can see with my natural eye and believe in my spirit that there is something else that I'm going to be doing at some point. Don't know what it is. Don't know when it's coming. But I believe that, for me, I identify vision as understanding that every season in your life is a season of preparation for something else. So just as in nature, there's a season for planting. There's a season for nurturing. There's a season for harvesting and a season for rest. I believe that those are the elements that define how one ultimately is able to bring reality to vision.
Philosophy on the other hand, for me, is thinking through the process of making things happen. And so the process has to do with learning how to analyze not merely that which defines you as you are at a certain stage, but also trying to give definition to what you want to be at other stages in your life. So my philosophy is rooted in one, the grounding of an historical background that comes up out of segregation. But my vision is that life is more than that. Therefore, whatever I am philosophically is not limited to whatever boxes people seem to construct and think I ought to be in. But rather an understanding that my philosophy has exploded in such ways in order to have connection to my vision that I cannot be boxed in. Therefore, whether it's politics or whether it is education or anything else, I don't see myself limited to having to accept one idea. Because life is continually changing. And because life continually changes, I want to always be aware of how that change impacts my life and I get beyond the limitation of philosophy and deal with the reality that with vision, there is no limitation.
Now -- and what I've been blessed with is a sense of a common style that is in many ways an attachment to people. And so that with a style where people are comfortable in my presence because they know that I'm not such an ideologue that I could not accept, appreciate another person's point of view, even if I don't agree with it. And so people find a level of comfort in that. So the style is always to say, "I understand where you are. This is where I am. But I think we have some common ground." I'm always looking for common ground.
BOND: And how do these work together, vision, philosophy, style, for you? How do these come together for you?
FLAKE: I think vision, philosophy, and style come together in a way that, with my philosophical positions, I'm always able to create a sense in the minds of people that there are things you can do better and greater with my ability to have a vision and then make that vision real. People are able to say, "Here's a guy who does not only have vision, who does not even have the rhetoric of possibility, but actually when he talks about possibility, I know that, because I see the result, that this can become reality for my life as well." And the style is one of giving comfort, a kind of comfort where people know, "If I can trust him, then I can trust myself to do more for myself. Because I've seen what he's been able to do for himself by virtue of the style that he's adopted in terms of his own lifestyle."
BOND: But there was a point when you were nineteen years old, you become the pastor of this church.
FLAKE: I have none.
BOND: You have nothing to show people.
FLAKE: And that's where it all begins. That's the foundation.
BOND: Okay, so it starts right there.
FLAKE: You start from -- you know, you launch from wherever you are. I think I said it last night, wherever you are, I believe that that's just another launching pad. And you keep on -- every stage you go in life, too many people find comfort at the stages where they have some measures of success. I'm never comfortable with measures of success. Because I think there's still so much I need to be doing so that I know that I'm put on this pad to accomplish certain things. But after this launch, I'm ready to go onto the next launch. And sometimes, that takes longer than others. Which is why it was easy for me to spend eleven years in Congress. Because when I ran for the office, I said, "I will be here ten to twelve years." At the end of the eleventh year, I resigned. And nobody thought that that could be. Because most folk don't leave what my father-in-law would call a good federal job. And so -- but my reality was that I could not accomplish all that I wanted to do locked up in a schedule that I don't control, in an environment that is ever changing and is becoming more hostile. But I can do more being free. And I've been able to do that over the last four years.
BOND: Let's talk for a minute about how leadership is made. People tend to think of them being made in three separate ways: great people cause great events; movements throw up leaders, make movements happen; and the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the times. Which of these, if any, do you fit? Or do you fit more than one?
FLAKE: I think all three. I think great leaders are those who are able to respond by creating movements and movements are not always merely -- I think the context of the African-American experience is all too often movements for us have been towards protests, reactions. My sense of that is greatness is not defined merely by reaction. It is defined by being proactive in ways that bring about change, and understanding that the movement may bring about an upheaval that makes change more possible. So, there are times I want to be in movement. There are times I want to be in the process of making the thing happen. Ultimately, the goal becomes to give new definition, new meaning, to the way people think about things, especially those things they think are detrimental to their life. And give them a sense that although it appears to be detrimental now, it does not have to be fatal. And that you have to look within yourself to find the strength to be able to somehow overcome that. And I think people like the feeling that there is someone who is willing to say to them that these are the conditions and then ask the question, "What are you going to do about them? Are you going to move beyond blame and alibis and excuses? Or are you going to merely continue to languish in the rhetoric of change?" And that's where I don't -- I can't languish that long. Because I realize that ultimately change is coming, I have to take some responsibility for leadership.
BOND: But leadership is such a broad category that there are leaders who do want to languish there, and who are celebrated and applauded and worshiped. In fact, how do you -- you've already distinguished yourself in these categories. Is it a failing that you have these leadership types -- we have these leadership types who don't say, "Here's what we can do to get past this," but who instead say, "Here's where we are"? And merely describe the condition.
FLAKE: It is somewhat of a failing. It is somewhat of a failing because if you only concentrate on the problem, then the problem ultimately defines you as opposed to you defining the problem. My context is to give definition, to give reality to the fact that the problem exists, but then to give definition to how to solve the problem and if necessary to provide the leadership that brings about a solution that is one that people can live with. And for me, it's never about -- I don't worry about celebration. I mean, you honor me by having me here. But the bottom line is understanding that what I do through my leadership model is an actual getting-in, rolled-up-the-sleeves, making-it-happen. That is not celebrated as much as if I use the same rhetorical skills, the same ability to articulate, that can bring 6,000 people into worship on a Sunday morning. I could just as easily call press conferences and do the same thing and be revered as being one of the great voices. But what good is having a great voice if you have no product? And my goal is to ultimately build a product and eventually I get the recognition. And that's -- that's okay. But that's not the goal.
BOND: You've answered this question, but I want to ask it anyway. Is your legitimacy as a leadership figure – and you can't deny that you have legitimacy – is it your ability to persuade people to follow your vision? Or is it your ability to articulate the agenda of a larger movement around you? Or could it be both of these things?
FLAKE: It is both those things built on substantive accomplishment. Okay, so if you can articulate it, get people to believe it, get people to follow it, and then take them to your place, where they see that when you talk about housing and schools, and the product actually speaks for you, which is why I don't worry about celebrity. Because the product does the speaking. When the product does the speaking, people keep coming back to that. Because it is not a jumping from issue to issue or event to event. Because there are some events that have brought about a change that are going to be in place for the next one hundred years. So that when you begin to point to what I call the visible evidence of the manifestation of God's move in that leadership, then people have to say, "There is something to this." It is the same thing when you go back to the classical Du Bois/Washington kind of argument that is often made. And I tell people Du Bois was great in terms of articulating and bringing us to a level of awareness and understanding about a need to have an appreciation for those who succeed, those who have abilities, some natural, some acquired. But every time a child graduates from Tuskegee Institute one hundred years later, it also says Booker T. was equally correct. Two different models heading in what appear to be conflicting directions, but both of them had an emphasis on the ultimate education of people. And so I think we get so caught up in it having to be one way or another that we don't understand that different people go different ways about trying to accomplish the same goals.
BOND: Now, I know the question I'm going to ask you now has an easy answer, and that's faith. But I wonder if you could --
FLAKE: But you don't want my easy answer --
BOND: I don't want your easy answer. What is the philosophy that guides you? What is it that gets you over difficult times and setbacks? And -- what is it?
FLAKE: It is -- and I guess you're clear in the dimension of faith -- but it is a sense that God has a purpose for me. God has defined my destiny, and I don't know what that ultimate destiny is. But I do know that as God keeps revealing new things and creating the opportunities for me to expand, there is a reason for it. And so I don't believe that I'm totally in control of everything that happens in my life. Because the doors that have opened for me have not been doors that I've even seen, let alone been in a position to open. And those doors suddenly appear. And here I am invited to come in and invited to perform. So that I've got to believe that there is a God present, one. There is the faith dynamic. But there's also a spiritual element in my being that says, "If it is in the will of God, I can accomplish it." And therefore, if I believe this is God's will for me, I'm going to do it to the best of my ability. And it's worked extremely well. I believe that if I stay in the will of God, that it does not appear what I'm going to be able to accomplish yet in the future.
BOND: Would you describe the leadership that you exhibit as faith-based or values-based? Or are these the same? Are faith and value the same for you?
FLAKE: Faith and value are definitely connected. Because my faith stand and my faith commitment forces me to have to live in a standard whereby I know that there is a kind of modeling that I have to do, because there's a significant body of people, there are significant persons, who are looking to me to have a certain kind of standing. And so that's a part of the guiding factor, and in many ways, the guiding principle. But more than that, I think it is a sense that by adopting a certain lifestyle, I am, in fact, helping to shape the minds of a generation that's behind me in terms of them trying to adopt the reality of what you can do, if you can make the kind of choices that ultimately lends themselves to some measure of success. And getting that success and not losing it, because the choices have made it detrimental for you to be able to either maintain jobs or maintain family or maintain anything else. And even at your best effort, dealing with the reality that I've had my failures. But with every failure, I've considered that as a part of the process of the purging and pruning that is necessary to get rid of the dead weights that all of us carry in life, so that as I move forward, I'm able to be even more productive than in the past. John, Chapter 15, Verse 1, talks about how God sometimes prunes us, not to hurt us, but merely so that we'd be more productive. So I take my purgings as a part of God's processing. And it's allowed me to continue to move in spite of whatever things happen in my life.
BOND: I was interested in something you said last night in your public talk, that you talked about the corporate model of governance for your church which surely is radically different from the typical. The typical is autocratic: one person does everything or rules everything. And you described the corporate kind of management. Where does that come from?
FLAKE: I think that comes in part from my history with civil rights, my history as having been a dean at several colleges where I've had administrative responsibilities and budget responsibilities, an early development of work ethic and work discipline. And a sense that as institutions begin to grow that I could not do it all. I mean, I was literally forced to have to deal with a reality that no matter what I had birthed, in the final analysis, it could not grow if I tried to hold onto it. Because --
BOND: Was it entirely a function of size? If you had been back at that church that you took over at nineteen, would you have done the same thing?
FLAKE: No, because I did not have the experiential base to understand that this could be done or had to be done. If it had grown that way -- but it could not have done that in the environment because it was in Ohio, where you did not have the opportunity for that kind of growth. But if the dynamics had worked the same way, it is possible that it would have happened. But the probability is that it would not have. Because my experiences in going through education and going through Xerox and going through these other environments is really what gave me -- and going to business school at Northeastern -- I mean, those kinds of things helped me to understand building systems as opposed to building around myself as an individual without the ability to delegate with some trust and confidence in other people.
BOND: I want to talk for a minute about race consciousness and how race consciousness affects you. How does it affect you?
FLAKE: Well, it has a great deal of effect. I was talking to the young lady who did the research last night who had read my book, and one of the things she had mentioned was that segment in there where I talked about how when I went home for a summer and the weight and strain of trying to work my way through college had really started to get to me. And being away from home in Ohio where my first encounter with snow and the like, coming from Houston where I'd never seen it before. And so I went home between my sophomore and junior years because I didn't have the money to come right back to campus. And I decided I was going to stay. I was working at Albright Park making $1.75 an hour, and I thought that was a wonderful salary back in 1968. No, was that -- ? 1963. So I said, "Okay. I'm going to just stay home and work."
Two things happened. The first thing was that as I was driving on the parking lot, the car's brakes gave way. The car wound up in the shoe store across the street. And I had this real feeling that God was trying to tell me something, I really have to deal with this. The second thing was a young lady came on the parking lot one day at noon-time. Restaurant's across the street. And as we were parking cars, she came back and said that she had been short-changed. And I told her that the company policy was that at the end of the day when we did the checkout, if there was an over -- if there was money over, then we would send it to you, take you address, phone number and the like, and we would do that. Well, she left the lot and she came back with this white policeman who said, "You ought to have him arrested." I mean, I'm talking about a simple -- clearly an error, if it was -- I did not know at that point that it was an error. And she said, "No, I don't want him arrested. All I want is the difference between what I should have paid and the money that's missing." And the white policeman just kept on telling her, "You ought to have him arrested. You ought to have him arrested." So after a while, she joined in the force with him. "Well, yeah. They arrested my son because he had a parking ticket and they took him in. So, yeah. I want to press charges."
So, on the way to the station, you know, the window was open. I put my hand in the window. The policeman said, "Nigger, get your hand out of that window." And you know, I did that. And I got down to that police station. Fortunately, the company lawyer was there to meet me within a few minutes just as they were about to book me. Well, that very day when I got home, I called the president of Wilberforce University and said, "I don't have any money. I need to come back. I'd like a full-time job." And he said, "Were you working in the cafeteria?" I said, "Yes." He said, "You can have your job back there. And you serve all the -- you can wait the tables for all the dinners and programs that I have at the house. And I said to myself that very day, "The day is coming when I'm going to make more than that white cop. I'm going to do better than he could ever imagine doing in his own life." And that drove me for a long time. For a long time, the image of his face could not be erased from my mind. And every time I found myself getting discouraged or coming to a place where I thought I might want to quit doing something, the image of his face would flash before me. And that's when I realized that I'm going to keep on moving and I'm going to keep on driving. And I've had my other incidents. And every time I've run into racial incidents, for me, it's been an inspiration to just perform better, to do more, to prove that I have the ability to do more than most of the people who would try to reduce me or limit me or neutralize me based on my race.
BOND: To what degree, and it's impossible to say, does the fact that you're an AME have to do with your race consciousness? I think of the AME Church as a race-conscious church, a fighting church.
FLAKE: Oh, yeah, without a doubt. I mean, if you look at my dissertation, and you realize the emphasis I put on the role that Richard Allen played and buying his own freedom out of slavery and then being able to found a denomination where he was thrown out of a white church in Philadelphia, lifted physically, he and the persons who followed him because on a certain Sunday morning they refused to stay in the balcony but came down to the altar. That has been guiding in my life. I mean, I've been in AME all of my life. And I've had the feeling that this church denominationally offered something that I could not get anywhere else. I pastored a Presbyterian church for a while and did not get that same kind of feeling of pride in terms of what this denomination has offered to America and what it offers the world. And so it has indeed played a major part and a major role in helping to shape and define what I am. It has not helped to shape as much in defining the ministry that I have. Because -- in many ways I had to try to create a lot of what is the model we have. And in other ways, look at others who are in the same kind of categories. Because what we have lost in the denomination is that spirit of Richard Allen, of -- the self-help spirit of Richard Allen. And what I'm trying to do is demonstrate that this was a good model two hundred years ago. It's still a good model today. Because although the issues are different, they are not that different. Because we're still trying to solve problems of trying to empower and enhance the capabilities of people to be able to do things for themselves.
BOND: As you look at your own life, are you trying to advance the interest of African Americans? The interest of the larger society? Are these compatible? Are they in conflict ever? Can you do both?
FLAKE: I think in advancing the agenda and strengthening African Americans in terms of their capabilities and talents and putting them in a plane of excellence, it gives the world a better view of who we are. Because all too often in the current society, we have been reduced to -- people have reduced us to thinking that none of us are capable, none of us have the ability to rise above what they would see as the limitations of race because they define race in terms of poverty. They define race in terms of a need for constant social support. And the reality is, the more people you bring out of that need for social support, the more people you bring to a level where they understand that they can -- there are African Americans who can articulate and can function at their level and perform equally well or better than. Which is why I get so excited about the current modalities as it relates to black power with people like Richard Parsons and Ken Chenault and Stanley O'Neal and Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. Because I think what it does is, though they don't go around saying, "I'm black," they demonstrate that race ought not be the precedent that makes the ultimate determination of whether you give the opportunity. And given opportunity, that if that door opens, they will prove that they can do as much or as great as anyone else doing the same job.
BOND: Have you ever had the occasion in your leadership to find that advancing the interest of African Americans and advancing the interest of the larger society are in conflict? And if so, how did you overcome the conflict?
FLAKE: Well, yeah, I've seen that I guess most pronounced when I started running for Congress. When I -- when I made the announcement that I would run for Congress, I had natural reactions from many whites whose position was, because the district was a mixed district, that the first question that the average black politician faces when they are going to represent a body of people that's mixed is, "Can you represent the interests of white people?" And then they began to try marginalizing based on what you have historically done. But what my position was, if I had built homes – affordable homes for people, although my community is an African American community and although those homes were bought by African American people, I can do the same thing for you. Because home ownership is the dream of every American. If I can build a school in my community and build a standard of excellence in education, then I can share with you how we did that. Because it is not only African American schools that are suffering, it is also schools in Far Rockaway and schools in Ozone Park and other parts of my district that are not predominately African American. So that it seems to me that your concern ought not be whether I as an African American can represent your interests as it relates to race. Because if I can enhance the quality of education, enhance the quality of your lifestyle by creating jobs, enhance the quality of the environment in which you live by building homes, enhance the quality of your environment by bringing resources that create small business and entrepreneurship, then that is not a racially colored kind of environment anymore. But in reality, it becomes almost the means by which we create level playing fields for everybody. They actually bought into it and, of course, kept re-electing me. Because I kept bringing resources and they had no color on them. And the only thing that mattered at that point was, "This guy's bringing jobs. This guy's bringing more housing. This guy's helping to improve our education."
BOND: But did the point ever come at any time in your career, in Congress or in the ministry or even professionally in these non-ministerial jobs -- Xerox, Boston University -- where the interests of African Americans and the interest of the larger society seemed to be in conflict?
FLAKE: Not really. At Xerox, because I was in marketing and in seven, eight months, I had the top territory, performance-based. My theory was "I will out perform everybody here." So that was driving me racially. But it was not -- it was not something that was on my -- that I wore on my sleeve. They didn't know that's what it was. What was driving me was, "I'm going to prove I deserve to be in this environment. I'm not here because I'm black. I'm not here because of affirmative action. I'm here because I'm competent and because I'm capable." So, in my mind, it had a place. I don't know that it necessarily had a place in their minds after a while. Because on my team, they knew I would be the top producer. And therefore, the team -- the team on which I was the only black was, at the end of the month, going to be the team that was celebrated. So the bottom line for them was no longer about whether this was a black guy. It was about the fact that this black guy is able to produce.
BOND: But was that part of the bottom line for you that you wanted to show this black guy -- ?
FLAKE: Without a doubt. Without a doubt. And I think all of us, if we've ever been in those environments, bear that burden. Some cave under it. I tend to think the majority who look to that as a challenge that they can overcome, thrive on it. Because, you know, I want to be able to show within myself to myself and to my children that I can function in any environment.
BOND: Have you ever felt that this is a burden that you don't want to carry all the time? That sometimes you want to say, "Well, forget it. I don't have to be the best"?
FLAKE: I wish it didn't have to be.
BOND: "I don't have to be the top -- "
FLAKE: There is no question I wish it didn't have to be, but it is still reality. I mean, even in Congress, imagine this: I'm driving down the street. I've got a license plate on my car that says U.S. Congress 6. That's my district. And a white cop stops me in the street, does not see my license plate initially. And starts calling me names because he was waving for me to stop. He did not have a uniform on. I did not stop, obviously with my position, in the street for anybody. You just don't do that. Especially in the moment when I'm driving alone. And then he started this whole thing, "Nigger, didn't I tell you to pull over? Didn't you see me? Blah, blah, blah."
"No, I didn't, sir. No, sir." I mean, I'm talking, I'm fifty-some years old. And I'm saying to this kid, "No, sir. I did not see you. And then when I did see you because you did not have a uniform on, I did not now you were a police officer. I pulled over because I thought you may have had an emergency need. And that's when you have now flashed your badge. And so, sir, you have to forgive me. I did not know." So then he takes my registration. He looks at the license plate, comes back and hands me my billfold and said, "Sir, I'm very sorry." It should not have been based on the fact that he recognized that I was the congressman. The fact that he pulled me over and began calling names upset me so much. But I just put it in the portfolio of things that keep me going. And, yes, I wish it did not have to be that way.
BOND: Is the portfolio full?
FLAKE: No, it's not full. I suspect that as time has gone on, those incidents have diminished. And I must say, a number of police have stopped me since then and recognized me and they don't do that. But I want them to be where you don't recognize me for who I am, but you recognize that I am anybody you stop, whether they're black, whether they're white, whether they're female or male. And you ought to treat everybody the same.
BOND: Although it's obvious you have drive and ambition, I'm going back to this Xerox story. Was there ever a time then when you were working for this company where you're saying, "Why do I have to hustle so hard? Can't I just be the average salesman? Can't I just, you know, be okay?"
FLAKE: No, I thought that's what I'm supposed to do. I was driven to want to do it. No, I did not. I didn't feel pressure. I just felt that within me there was this spirit that I had.
BOND: That it was inescapable. You couldn't get rid of it.
FLAKE: Couldn't get rid of it. Couldn't get rid of it.
BOND: Do you have a leadership style that adapts to controversy? Or in controversy, in church, in public life, does the same leadership style apply?
FLAKE: I think that the leadership style in both is the same. And in controversy, I think that what I generally try to do is find the common ground. But as you know, you're dealing with human personalities. And that becomes an impossibility in every instance. A classic case is when you're talking about growth and change as it occurred in the church over the last twenty-six years. Obviously, if you inherit a congregation of about a thousand people that is in a growth mode, you have people who have already established their turf, already established their positions. So when you come in and start talking about, for instance, we're not going to have fifty-some clubs that have fifty-some checking accounts. And we're going to have everybody put their money in a central account. You're talking about really the golden calf. You are now about to knock off a sense of power that people have. Because, as you know, in churches, power resides in being able to control that money, even though it is the church's money, but most of the groups in the churches don't understand that. I ran into serious problems in the first couple of years. Because, one, the church was growing fast. And everybody in churches don't want it to grow. Because then you begin to disseminate power. You don't have the same people heading up everything. And they're used to that. You change the models in terms of creating systems for accountability and bringing in accountants and CPAs -- they're not used to that. And that was not a model that the leadership of the church even embraced because they said it was too costly. So when we began that, there were just three people primarily who really had vehement reactions to that. And I think it was about control. Eventually, I think I tolerated it for a long time, because I felt that over time it would take care of itself. And what I learned in that experience is that when you have problems, you have to confront them. You can't just keep letting them roll. You've got to deal with that. And I am one -- one thing about my leadership style that I consider a weakness is I hate confrontation. I will do anything to avoid confrontation. But reality is that you have to deal with it.
BOND: How do you overcome this weakness that you perceive in yourself?
FLAKE: Well, I become more confrontational in terms of issues. I realize now that you got -- you have to take a position and you have to -- if that is your position, you have to go on and be confrontational in a loving way. And I try to do it in such ways. As I teach my staff, you can have confrontation, but you don't have to leave blood on the floor. You ought to be able when the confrontation is finished to leave people standing and have a sense of dignity about themselves. And that's basically my approach. In this case, even that did not work. And so I wound up in a court case. And I mean, the court case basically, emanated from within the church. And it evolved by the time I had gotten into Congress. So I wound up on a federal trial with accusations that the very people, these very three people, wound up testifying on my behalf actually about the changes that had occurred. And I was shocked because the accusations they had made was I was stealing money and all, when, in fact, what we did was build systems of accountability. On the witness stand, they said, "No. He didn't have access to cash. We wrote the checks. We did this and that and the other. But he changed everything." And the bottom line was that was the primary issue.
And it really happened when that same group of three -- when we had built the school, and then all these vacant stores were across the street. And I had a vision that we ought to buy them. And these were members of the trustee and steward boards who said, "We're not in the real estate business. We have a church we paid for. We have a school, a $4 million school we just built. But we're not in the real estate business." So I stood in the congregation one Sunday and said, "You know, we can buy these stores, the fifteen stores across the street, and get them for $250,000." After $50,000 in thirty days -- my wife organized women in the church to raise the $50,000. And those three guys said I disrespected them. And that I would never regret it. And that's how we really wound up in that court case.
I guess the other area of controversy is once I got in Congress, the fact that I really tried to work with both sides of the aisle. One thing you don't do generally as a Democrat is work with Republicans. But I found people like Tom Ridge, who was in Erie and I was in Jamaica, we decided that the problems of his city were like the problems of my city. And that we needed to work together to do that legislation which was a community renewals act. And we did it. We pushed it through. And I pushed it through with a great deal of Democratic opposition. Well, of course, that gave me a reputation as being somewhat of a maverick, which did not trouble me because in the final analysis, when you look at what has happened with that legislation and the amount of dollars that have gotten into communities, that came just before the Empowerment Act, it would not have happened. And so, it becomes -- sometimes you stand on your principle and you try to face people. And everybody who knows me will tell you, even if they disagree with me, when they see me the next time, I'm coming up, I'm going to give them a hug. Because I don't carry the burden of whatever the issues were. The next time -- each new issue stands on its own. That's part of my style.
BOND: I saw you last night speaking to that audience. And you were, of course, perfectly at ease, relaxed, and comfortable within yourself and where you were and the circumstances. And I'm wondering do you have a different style when you're addressing a black audience or an overwhelmingly white audience or a mixed audience? Is there a different floor? Flake, I don't mean dishonestly different, but just different.
BOND: The same in every respect?
FLAKE: No, exactly the same thing. I mean, what you saw when I came in that room last night, I don't know whether you noticed, I shook everybody's hand. So I developed -- I want to connect. And I want to have that kind of relationship. So that before I get up to do the speech, people have already -- if they came with tensions. They came uncertain. They have a different feeling. Because this guy came over and shook my hand. He's not running for political office. Some people ask, "Well, what does he want?" I guess they would have expected a sales pitch or something at the end of the speech. But I'm generally that way. I'm that way in the pulpit. I don't sit in my chair. I move around during the worship services. I sit in the pew for a minute. I'll stand on the side. And I greet everybody. If there are ten people, twenty people in the hallway, I greet every one of them individually. And then when I'm up speaking, the same speech that I gave last night is the same speech that I would give in any environment.
BOND: Let me push you on this now. Last night you got a lot of "uh-huh, mm-hmm, that's right, uh-huh." Not quite "Amen," but right up close to that. Had that been an overwhelmingly white audience, I don't think you would have gotten that. Not that you wouldn't have been appreciated. I don't think you would have gotten it. At least you wouldn't have gotten it to the same degree.
FLAKE: Probably not the same degree. You're right. But they -- most white audiences connect to what I say.
BOND: And you connect to every audience in the same way?
FLAKE: In pretty much the same way.
BOND: Because speaking for myself only, I think I am different depending on the audience I'm facing.
FLAKE: Yeah. Well, what I do --
BOND: My message is the same.
FLAKE: I think, difference is not message.
BOND: Yes. No, I'm not talking about message.
FLAKE: Okay. Difference is flow. If I'm in a predominately black audience, one thing that probably will happen is I'm going to throw in more scripture. And I'm probably going to get into more of a preachy flow, if you know what I mean.
BOND: Yes, I know what you mean.
FLAKE: Okay. In a white audience, I may get into that if I get a connection, where I begin to see. But as you know, most white audiences do not respond with the -- verbally. And in a black audience, if you get a few verbal responses and head shakes, then you go with a whole different kind of flow. In a white audience, generally, they may shake their head. You can see they're attentive. But you don't get into the rhythm. There's kind of a thing you kind of connect to. So, to that degree, yeah. But I would give that same message.
BOND: No, I wasn't talking about a message difference, but almost a stylistic difference.
FLAKE: Yeah, yeah. No question.
BOND: In a book called Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment, the authors quote William Allen. And he writes about this – he says, "Thinking in terms of race or gender is dangerous. Until we learn once again to use the language of American freedom in an appropriate way that embraces all of us, we're going to continue to harm the country." Is there a danger of divisiveness when you think about black leadership as opposed to leadership? Or when you even think about black issues? There are more and more people today who, if the NAACP says, "There's racial discrimination over here," who say, "Don't mention that. Think about the things that bring us together, not that divide us."
FLAKE: Yeah. Well, clearly there is a danger of divisiveness. But there is a greater danger if we don't bring certain issues to the forefront. Because those issues are damaging a generation. They not only damage individually, but they damage generationally. I mean, I'll give you a classic case, the Amadou Diallo case. Because I am generally considered to be not totally Democrat, [not] totally Republican. Though I'm a registered Democrat, people did not expect me to be on the line to be arrested because Amadou Diallo was shot. Now, my position was simply that Amadou Diallo is my son. And when I talk to Mayor Giuliani about that, he says, "What do you mean?" I said, "You must understand that middle-class African Americans, these are not -- this is not just a [Rev. Al] Sharpton issue. Middle-class African Americans are upset. Because when my seventeen-year-old and my twenty-year-old go out at night, I am no longer worried about whether they're going to get killed by some gang members. I'm concerned about whether they're going to get killed about a gang of police." Because my kids are not criminal. They don't now how to react when they are stopped and they have five or six guns pointed at their heads. And any movement by them could mean that I'm called to the morgue.
And what you're going to have to do is deal with the reality that this is not just black radicals. These are not just black activists. But these are also blacks like myself. And so if you look at the line of folk who got arrested there, these are middle-class folk who joined with the traditional activists to say, "These are our children." And there were times when you've got to raise the racial issue. Because people have to become sensitized to the reality that persons like myself have made all these sacrifices, have given ourselves to the benefit of trying to make this a better nation. And yet, we are not comfortable and cannot sleep because our children's lives are being threatened everyday, and not just by those who are the lawless, but by those who also have the responsibility of carrying the law. And you and I have lived through that generation where we have seen if that is not checked, the net result is that it continues. And innocent people continue to die.
BOND: Can you name your greatest contribution as a leadership figure? What is the greatest contribution you've made so far?
FLAKE: I think probably if I were to define what might be the greatest contribution, it is in understanding the institution that connects black and white. And that is the church. And building models where whites and blacks from all over America come to New York with one question in mind, whether they're church people, whether they're banking groups, Fannie Mae or any of those institutions that are doing funding in minority communities, they want to know, "Is this possible? Can it be done? Not just in New York. And can we use what is now called the faith-based model to begin to transform, restore and renew communities?" And I think my greatest contribution is to be positioned well so that whether it is the president or the governor or mayors or corporate heads or bankers are coming to an environment and saying, "If you've done this, how can we do the same thing in other communities?" Because ultimately, the strength of America will be determined by its ability to restore and to rebuild these communities. Because the center cities are still going to be considered the places that will define what happens in any metropolitan complex.
BOND: In this book, Race Matters, Cornel West writes about the crisis of leadership. And he says, "The crisis is a symptom of black distance from a vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by ethical ideals and from a credible sense of political struggle." Do you see this crisis today? Do you agree with West's definition of what the crisis is?
FLAKE: Not totally. Not totally. Because you have too many different new models that are emerging. When you look at the church model, if you look at the recent edition of Ebony magazine, these mega-churches and what they are doing in community, if you look at the names I gave before in terms of those that are projected in the corporate structure, if you look all around, you see African American leadership emerging in ways that I think are definitely connected. Now, I think from -- not from the leadership perspective, what we have to do is try to find a way to make sure that those who have been the recipients of the sacrifices of the movement understand that they too have a connection. Not bring them to a place where they view everything racially. But at least they have a sense of the history of what got them to the places where they are in the times when I could not have gone to the University of Houston or to many of the other major institutions by the time I entered in college in '62 and that post '65, how all of those doors have opened for them, and how valuable it is for them to be able to now have the freedom of the choice of where they go. And I think in a case like -- I think one reason these churches are demonstrating that power is they are in the places where the people are that Cornel is talking about in Race Matters. The connection is there. And the -- as people are coming into those environments, they are seeing that you don't have to be less than who you are to become greater. But, in fact, you can be the essence of -- you can define yourself in terms of how you see yourself in past, how you see yourself in the present. But then have a vision about what you can do in the future to make a contribution where you may not even live in that community, but in any community you are a part of, you demonstrate some measure of excellence where people don't just see you based on your color, but really begin to deal with what Martin would call content of character.
BOND: If you're promoting a model of economic empowerment and growth and strength, how do you get people to understand that and not to forego social improvement, but to place these in the perspective that you want.
FLAKE: Yeah, I think that the reality is that -- I mean, the operative word that you gave is "perspective." And I think what we have done in too many instances is allow the social-political to be the guiding light rather than putting it in a perspective where there is a balance as it relates to education and economics. As you know, before if you look at what happened from the Richard Allen era up until about '62, '65 that -- that was an era where no matter what kind of background a family had, that child was expected to be among the first, as in my case, to go onto college and get a degree. The next -- there was always the feeling that the next generation will be an educated generation. And that that generation, now with the key that opens up the door to the possibility of being able to have access to the kind of economics that would allow for future generations to build on a legacy, as opposed to just generation after generation, almost starting all over.
I think that model that I talk about is one that does not absent a role for the social-political, but deals with the reality that now we have a plethora of African American leaders in elected capacities. And so our focus can't be exclusively political. And if it is political, even that has to require some rearrangement dealing with the new populations that have become a part of this nation and dealing with the reality that it is difficult anymore in many instances to define who is Republican, who is Democrat. So that we have to reduce them from capital -- from having made them capital letters, to small-case letters, so that we can then begin to move across the land and interface in ways that we don't deal merely in politics, but we deal in power. Our reality must become one that power comes not merely from definitions of attachment to other people, but also comes when we have something to bring to the table that says "I'm your equal. And I'm not coming here to beg for something. I'm not coming here to become your dependent. I'm coming here because I have something to offer," as I did when we built this new cathedral which was a $23 million church.
When I went to Walter Ship [Walter Shipley] at the bank who was Chairman of Chase Bank, what I said to him is, "I'm grateful for the $2,000 and $2,500 grants you give my church. But if I have the choice of taking those small grants and a $15 million loan, I need a $15 million loan which I am willing to repay. I'm not coming here to beg for anything. I'm coming because I have developed a system. That system has outgrown its model. And I need your assistance to treat me like you would any other small business." And his response was, "We will find a way to make the loan." And that's what I'm talking about. You don't just go in viewed as almost a welfare recipient, even in the places of power. But you go in and say, "I am your equal. And I want you to treat me as an equal." And you can do that if you have the proper education and if you come in standing on an economic ground. As I tell in a lot of my speeches, I tell people, "You don't buy a car without a down payment. You don't buy a home without a down payment." I never go to get resources without saying, "I have mine. And what I want you to do is help me to leverage mine. So that I can be able to do more than I can do with the limited resources I have."
BOND: A last question in the minute or two we have -- how can we create more leaders in our society? They seem to spring up when they're needed. They seem always to be in abundance. Not always the people you might select, or I might select. But how do we ensure a continuation?
FLAKE: I think part of the problem is when you talk about creating leaders. I think you have to -- the problem we have is when you create them, generally we create them with a sense that they have to be -- they have to abide by the rules we set and that they have to be obedient to the directions we give. We don't want to create leaders. We want leaders to emerge in ways where they have enough of a sense of independence that when they do rise, people automatically see that leadership in them. I was impressed about two years ago when I was in Michigan. I met a young man named Kwame Kilpatrick, thirty-one years old -- he was about twenty-eight then -- and Kwame said to me, "I'm going to run for mayor of this city one day. And what I want you to do is to share with me your ideas about education. Because our schools in Detroit are not performing well. I want to know what it would take to turn them around." We talked about everything from vouchers to charter schools and the like. He ran a race recently against an old line politician in Detroit. At thirty-one years old, he's the mayor. And he took strong positions about alternatives to the traditional education models. He emerged because he was willing to consider not just the historical approaches, but look at new approaches and say, "This is the wave of the future." Leaders will emerge when they begin to think about how to get out of the box. And when they come out of the box, understand that they have broken the bondage of limitation and the bondage of neutrality, and be able to rise and take strong positions about things, realizing that it's confrontational. But in reality, in the end, it's beneficial.
BOND: Dr. Flake, that's a perfect time on which to end. Thank you so much for your ideas.
FLAKE: Thank you. Good to be here.
BOND: Thank you.