Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership Crisis: Integrity

BOND: In his book Race Matters, Cornel West writes, “The crisis of leadership 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 a crisis of leadership in black America today? Is it represented by the kind of people you just spoke about who cut themselves off? And if there is, what contributes to this crisis?

BUTTS: I see that there’s a crisis of leadership in America and one of the major contributors is a lack of integrity. Men and women are not really committed to the struggle for justice and liberation and freedom for all people, black or white. For black people, it is particularly severe in the sense that we have wedded ourselves to the world. You can’t serve God and man, and either you will hate one or love the other, and too many of us have been lured by the siren song of materialism and therefore we have committed ourselves to the same kind of philosophy as those who enslaved us and we’ve left the masses saying that we have arrived. However, the crisis is superficial. Media has brought to the top a lot of charlatans, a lot of weak, atrophied people, but just below the surface there still exists those men and women who are committed to the struggle for civil and human rights. They are school teachers, coaches, leaders of local NAACP branches. They are clergypersons. They are social workers, and they’re out there and they continue to organize, speak the truth, and out of that — I don’t know when — there’s going to emerge that clear voice who, not for political expediency, will continue to be identified with the base.

Some of us for political expediency will say, well, you know, they’ll take the base for granted. You’re going to be there. Some of us for political expediency — well, I can’t identify with you right now because, you know, I got a bigger prize to gain. It’s not going to work because integrity demands that you will stick to the issues, represent what you believe, even at personal cost, and for me, the examples, if I just give you two, the ultimate example was Jesus — they nailed Him to a cross, and in our own experience, was Dr. King. He died broke, shot down on a Memphis balcony, but he never forgot his base.