Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Development

BOND: Back to leadership — people talk about leadership creation, how leaders are created in three ways. Great people cause great events, movements make leaders, or unpredictable events create leaders appropriate for the times. Does one of these seem to be your path to leadership? Great people cause great events, movements make leaders, or unpredictable events create leaders appropriate for the times.

LEE: I think movement makes leaders. I think a little bit of each, but, you know, I think if it weren't for the Black Panther movement, the civil rights movement, the peace movement, the movements that I've been involved in for social justice — personally, I'm not sure what I'd be doing now so I think that's the path. Then, of course, there's what they talk about in terms of visibility, like events that, you know, may heighten your visibility. For instance, when I voted against these wars, being the only one certainly in many ways in an uncomfortable sense, heightened my visibility, so I think that events also create, you know — maybe it's a certain personality or creates a certain, you know, space for people to see a different side of you than they may not have seen before.

I know someone told me that, "Gee, maybe now" — and this is very insightful on her part, after I cast that tough vote — they said, "Well, maybe now everyone will know what we know about you." My mother, she was the first one — "Well, they could've called me. I would've told them you were gonna vote no, if they'd just asked me, you know, because I know you, and they just don't know you." And so I think events may put you out there in terms of who you are that may not have been revealed before.

BOND: If I were thinking about this, I would say that for you, a great leader, Shirley Chisholm, inspired you to join her movement, and from that movement you emerged as a leader. Is that — ?

LEE: Well, you know, she inspired me to get involved in politics, but I've been involved in so many movements.

BOND: Yes, before that.

LEE: There were not-partisan political movements before that. Bagging groceries with the Black Panther Party. I started my own community mental health center, which was a movement. Working with the Black Panther Party helping to start their school in Oakland, California. Protesting, getting arrested protesting apartheid in South Africa, being very involved in the End the Blockade movement against Cuba, so there've been so many movements that weren't necessarily part of my political life that I have been involved in that I guess kind of were stepping stones.