Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Early Experiences

BOND: Now, we're attempting to get at leadership and how leadership develops. And I'm wondering, looking back on your formal education, the school, the college, and other aspects, what part of that made you whom you are today, the leader that you are today?

FLAKE: I think that --

BOND: You talked a moment ago about being involved in youth activities in the school and so on. How did that -- ?

FLAKE: I think, when I go back, it probably starts from that early age, realizing that for some reason people kind of looked to me as a leader. By the time I got to college at Wilberforce, the president, the dean, were calling on me to do things that -- it started out, I suspect, that I was serving, waiting tables in their homes and the like. And before long, I found myself driving the university car to pick up guests, like Dr. King when he came to do commencement. I was in peer counseling, one of the leaders in peer counseling. I ran the actual Wednesday night chapel services. So, before long, I think that people just had a sense that "this guy's a leader," and people were calling me to take positions.

BOND: Why did they have that sense?

FLAKE: Students kind of gravitated to me.

BOND: Why?

FLAKE: There was a level of maturity, I think --

BOND: Why did they gravitate to you?

FLAKE: I think that was some sense there was a level of maturity. I was trying to do things right, to the degree that you do right as a college student. I was also preaching young. And we had our Sunday afternoon services. And I was preaching pretty regularly with that. I think it's just a natural part of whatever God gave me in my makeup that just kind of projected me. I've never had to push myself. I've never had to even seek for a position. When I came to New York to pastor, I was invited to do it. When I went to Lincoln, I was invited to come by Dr. [Herman] Branson and Dr. Carl Thomas. When I went to Boston, I was invited to come and take the position to initially run the Dr. Martin Luther King African-American Center. And when I ran for Congress, the people in the community asked me to run. So I think it's something I don't -- I cannot pinpoint. But whatever it is, it's there. Other people see it more than I do. Because I'm constantly talked to by staff and the like about the fact that I don't seem to exert or push myself. They want me to do it even more. But I haven't had to do that. Because whatever it is, it's somewhat natural.

BOND: But you must have set an example others could see. And so people say, "There's Flake. He's a leader." What is it? It's not just maturity. It's not just preaching.

FLAKE: A lifestyle. You know, I've always tried to live to a standard. If you read my book, I talked about the fact of trying to remain chaste until I was twenty-one. My children find that to be distasteful, that one would even be thinking of waiting until they were an adult and married. But the reality is, I think, lifestyle choice for me was not to get into a drug culture, was not to get into alcohol. And those things in a marginal, minimal way -- I tested alcohol and didn't like it. I even tested cigarettes when I was fourteen and didn't like it. So the very things that most of my peers were doing was not things that I was doing. And I think they saw me in a different way. They responded to me in a different way. And generally, if there was a need for a leader, they asked if I would do it. And again, I've never had to push myself. So it's been -- I can't pinpoint all of the things. I mean, being a man of God, I would have to say this was God's purpose and my destiny was somehow tied to his sense that -- that I ought to be in some leadership capacity.