Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

A Need to Train Leaders for the Future

BOND: Here's a question, Congressman. You and I are the same age. We're not going to be here a whole lot longer. What do we have to do to make sure there're other leadership figures coming up? How do you grow leaders? Is it possible to create leaders or how can you create the circumstances under which leaders flourish, new leaders flourish?

CLYBURN: Well, sure, it's possible to create circumstances possibly I think to train people in leadership. I really believe that the future requires that we spend a little more time focusing on the training of leadership. Now, no matter what abilities you may have, what skills you may have, what may be in your DNA, it's like anything else. I mean, the energy that goes into a hydrogen bomb cannot be effective unless it's harnessed, and so I think that the future of our country requires that we spend much more time on training leaders for the future than we have in the past. If you look at you and me, we were shaped by a movement. We didn't create that movement. Somebody created it for us. If you go back to James Farmer and the '40s and A. Philip Randolph, I mean, those guys were doing things before we came along. And then we showed up in the '60s, circumstances developed and we were able to take advantage of that with leadership skills that had been honed somewhere without much formal kind of structure. I think in the future there's got to be formal structure. I think we have to…We live in a world much more complicated than the world was for us, and therefore, when you see things changing every day, I think that a structured leadership kind of training must take place in the future.

BOND: Let me read you something from Cornel West when he talks about the crisis of leadership. He says, "It's a symptom" -- and he says there is a crisis -- "It's 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," and in a way, that's a reference to the movement you and I came out of. Do you think there's this kind of crisis of leadership today?

CLYBURN: Yeah, absolutely.

BOND: In addition to these formal structures you talked about a moment ago, what can be done to overcome this crisis?

CLYBURN: Well, I think that once again, people have to see a stake in it. Look, voting, something as simple as voting, has dropped off dramatically in the black community. And the reason I think is because we have not been successful in recent years in getting black voters to see the direct relationship between their voting and what happens in their lives. That disconnect is there. Some kind of a way we've got to reconnect that.

Now, when none of us were in legislatures, and few of us in the Congress, people saw it. They saw us elect three black people, then fifteen and then thirty. They saw that. Now, what has happened is they says,"Okay, you've still got a vote." And they says, "Well, what's going to change for me? What is going to change?" And I don't think people see the change taking place and so we've got to really -- and the only way you're going to do that is to get people in a structured situation to understand it.

When I create the Lake Marion Regional Water Agency -- we're going to spend a $150 million. And unless I can show people that your life is going to improve as a result of this -- and this is why you have so many communities that resist it, because they don't see the relationship. Health-wise, there are people who do not really understand that part of this problem you've got with your health comes from that well water that you're drinking, and we've got to get that out of your system. They don't see that.

Most people cannot see that the lack of jobs in this area is a result of no infrastructure. And so that is a long disconnect, so we've got to have structured situations that will allow people to be taught and to understand the relationship. And people who are going to lead these movements have got to understand the relationship. I run across some pretty educated people today who do not understand those relationships because they have not functioned in that way.

With us, it was simple. I mean, nobody's got the right to vote, so you go from having a hundred registered voters to ten thousand registered voters and then you go from having no elected officials to the sheriff being black, the mayor being black, and everybody else. Now, that is great and you can see it. Now, "How will that change my life? How will that bring me a job? How will that improve conditions?" That is why we've got to have structure in this going forward, because every time I turn on my TV -- not TV -- my computer, if I go two months, I find that I need an upgrade to do something. The world is changing that fast. And so the kinds of movements that created you and me, these are evolutionary things, so the world is changing that fast. There's got to be structure for leaders to be able to change with it.

BOND: You must be reading my mind because the world is changing so fast. You could say that the leaders of today are leaders for their time, but tomorrow will be a different time. What different kind of leadership is required for a different kind of time?

CLYBURN: Well, I think fundamentally it's got to be the same. The approach has got to be different. The training's got to be different.

BOND: Different how?

CLYBURN: It's got to be different in that, you know, I thought computers were a passing fad. That's what I thought. And so it's got to be different, but fundamentally the things that lead people to be leaders I think is just something in you that when circumstances develop, it comes out, but are you prepared to do it? And so the training has got to be not just in philosophy. You've got to understand the world around us. You've got to understand technology. My grandchildren understand technology much better than I do, but the question is do they, will they, have the core values that need to be there for them to make the technology work?

BOND: How are you going to give them the values?

CLYBURN: Oh, it's got to be home and community. I think we've lost a sense of community which we've got to get back and when I says home and community, I don't mean just inside the house. I got so much out of my church, so much out of the people I grew up around. That should never leave us. That's where the core values come from. This other stuff, you know, that's why we see what is happening with the Enrons and everything else of the world is because people have figured out how to make the system work and how to make money, but somewhere along the line they lost those underpinnings, those core values that made us be respectful of others. I don't understand how anybody can… It's just foreign to me how you can sleep at night knowing that you just made a decision that will deny the pensions that all of your employees had been looking forward to. How do you take that away from four or five thousand people and enjoy yourself is beyond me. Somewhere along the line, I mean, when I was growing up, we were taught totally differently.