Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Foundational Experiences

BOND: Now, let me take you back again to high school, even before that, and to college as well. When did you first — we know you became the editor of the newspaper and that's a leadership position. But before that, how were you exhibiting, if at all, this — these leadership capabilities which clearly you had?

LEFTWICH: I think I always did. I wasn't always aware of it, but I remember that since we all went to the same high school you sort of had these friends that you made from the neighborhood and they became — they were your friends forever. I remember one of the students who had started kindergarten with me, when were in like third or fourth grade, there was something that required us in that class — we were in the same class — to get into groups. And her name was Mary Louise Byrd. She said, "I'm getting in the group with Yvonne because Yvonne walks like she's hearing music in her head." I thought, "That's funny." But since then, she and I have talked about it and it was apparent then to her, and I don't think it was necessarily to me, that I made decisions based on what I thought. I was not — I didn't really follow people. And it was not long after that that I was a leader in school. I played in the band. I played in the orchestra in grammar school. I competed in speaking contests. I won them, some of them. You know, some I didn't win. And we didn't have student government in grammar school. But I went to a high school, which would now be called a magnet school which was an academic high school. And I started working on a newspaper there. Worked on the yearbook. Was president of a couple clubs.

BOND: And the High Y. What attracted you to that?


BOND: Yeah.

LEFTWICH: Well, something to do — it was a question of where I was going to go after school with my friends and what was acceptable. The YWCA was run here again by an old friend of the family who was from a very prominent family in Buffalo. He was a social worker and his brother was a mortician. So — my father was a mortician. So they knew one another. And so the question was, what are the activities at the Y, and it wasn't the YWCA. It was the YMCA. There wasn't a YWCA that African Americans could go to when I was a kid. It was what activities would I be interested in, and the High Y was focusing largely on youth in government and civic issues. So I joined that. And they had developed a relationship with High Y's from other YMCAs which were — it was the only black YMCA so these other Y's were white. It then became a very positive learning experience and then I went to Albany and youth in government was stuff that I told you about that. So, it was reinforced and rewarding and was still giving me — I think I was president of the High Y, now that I think about it — giving me the opportunity to make things better, to change things.