Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

How Does Leadership Awareness Emerge?

BOND: Now, at some point in life, I've got to think that you began to think, "I am a leader. I've got these capabilities. I've got this perseverance." When did that happen to you?

CONYERS: There wasn't any point that it occurred.

BOND: I don't mean that a light bulb went off and you said, "Hey, I'm a leader," but at some point, you've got to realize that you have these capabilities, you have the perseverance, the drive, you've got the skills, you've got the training. At some point it has to all have come together.

CONYERS: Well, I don't want to resist the question because it's like, these things happen. As I ticked off these events that were turning points that could've changed my ultimate career -- please forgive me. This is not egotistical. I always felt I had leadership qualities. Not mammoth leadership qualities, but it never bothered me from the time I was in high school and these things, you begin to think about these things, it seemed to me that I did --

It reminds me of the story they tell of Dennis Archer -- and I tell this in kindness because Dennis is a good friend of mine -- is that Dennis came in a room where there were leaders and Dennis said, "You know, I want to be somebody, I want to do something. I can do this." And he was a little young skinny kid and they said, "Please."

And by analogy, Dennis wanted to do something. He was determined. It was his wife that talked him into going to law school. He was a school teacher and so was she. She became a lawyer and she wanted him to go, and he said, "Oh, okay, I'll go to Detroit College of Law at nights," and I don't know where this is going, but there was that spark. To me, that story illustrates Dennis and it seemed to me that we could do something. I felt I could do something. I didn't know what, and I never was afraid of stepping into the fray. I believed in the cause. I never really wanted to be a wealthy person. I was far more interested in -- and I was a history major, too. Professor Kelly, the chairman of the history department at Wayne University was one of the consultants on Brown v. the Board --

BOND: Alfred Kelly.

CONYERS: Al Kelly. I'm glad you remember his name because he was -- I was very struck by the fact that history -- and we get into this, does the incident create the leader? Or does the leader come forward and take advantage of the circumstance? -- and frequently it's a little bit of both it seems to me.