Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Crisis in Black Leadership

BOND: Now when you look about black America today, African America today -- many, many problems -- is there a leadership problem? I've often thought that we have more leaders per dozen than any other people on the face of the earth. But does it seem to be some sort of leadership problem, this desire to have a leader. This seeming competition today between Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Who's going to win out? Who are they competing amongst? What kind of crisis, if any, do we have in leadership?

COLE: It's there. It's there. And I go to the phrasing you just used, this need to have a single leader blinds us to the presence of leadership all around us. I also think that there is enormous ageism that we tend to suffer from in the African-American community. It's a good thing to respect our elders. But I am absolutely smitten by the young leaders that I know. I saw them at Spelman and at Morehouse. I see them now out in the community. They have a hard row to hoe. "They ain't old enough," we tell them. "They haven't had enough knocks," we tell them. These are extraordinary leaders. And so one of the things that I'm trying to do is not to go anywhere without making sure I'm bringing along with me one of these emerging leaders, because they have enormous possibilities.

BOND: You talk about writing the textbook for black studies in the 1970s. Do we need a textbook for this kind of leadership in the year 2001, 2002?

COLE: I don't think we need a textbook --

BOND: Maybe not in the formal sense, but --

COLE: -- but we need some institutes. We need some training grounds. I can't tell you how much I'm thinking about this these days. Because leadership really can be taught. Yes, I think people grow up with certain kind of characteristics and circumstances. But we can teach folk how to be leaders. I think that we can do a better job of teaching leadership skills to our HBCU folk. I think that we got a bit of a crisis there. For our national organizations we can teach leadership skills. Certainly for civil service and civil servants we can teach folk how to be better city council folk, how to serve on school boards without bringing all of their personal stuff in there. We can teach this. And I continue to think that in this phase of my life, if there is one thing that I would be willing and interested in doing that would be in the form of a major effort it would be around this question: How do we teach leadership?

BOND: When you find the answer come back here and tell us. Johnnetta Cole, thank you very much for doing this. It's been a great, great pleasure.

COLE: You're welcome, brother Julian.

BOND: Thank you.