Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Succeeding Without Shared Struggles

BOND: Some people think there's a kind of crisis in black leadership today. Cornel West says part of the reason there is such a crisis is that the current crop of leaders are separated from the kinds of movements that used to produce leaders in African-American communities. Do you buy that?

CONYERS: I can't begin this without telling you how much I admire and love Cornel West. He's a piece of work. There's only one Cornel West on the planet. That may have some validity. I have not read his latest book which I have promised myself to do as soon as these next forty days are over with, but you know, when I look around, when we were starting out, many of us came out of a profound historic movement that is almost hardly ever going to be replicated like it was. And so that affected our consciousness profoundly. Now, we have people that are coming into leadership roles, both publicly and privately, for whom that is a part of history which they have no direct experience. And so I have to understand that they don't -- they can't swap stories. They don't have any basis of it. It was something read in a book. "1963 -- oh, I remember, I saw some television about that. It was, wow, all those people and wasn't that 'I Have a Dream' speech the greatest speech -- " But they don't really connect up. So one of the new challenges to leadership, Julian, is that it is -- it has now become easier to succeed without being committed to the struggle. Now, if that was what Cornel was getting at --

BOND: Yes, I think so.

CONYERS: -- then we're simpatico. But now you can succeed, you can make it now, if you have the determination, the ability, and are at the right place at the right time. And then you can hear people saying, I know what it does to you as it does to me, "I don't need anybody to help me, I made it on my own." Now, that has got to be the most misinformed statement that anybody of color can make in the twenty-first century. None of us made it on our own. None of us. And so I think that we have to remind people not that you can't live in the suburbs, or that you can't work in a company, a corporate company, but that you've got to bring the integrity to it. The Black Caucus is the conscience of the Congress. You've got to be the conscience of your corporation.