Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Potential

BOND: You come form a large family -- thirteen children.

FLAKE: Thirteen of us.

BOND: Do any of your siblings exhibit similar or comparable leadership traits?

FLAKE: Yeah, I think most of us -- there's only one in our family that I can honestly say does not have that same kind of drive, commitment to some measure of excellence, and an ability to, even when knocked down, actually get up and do better. I'll give a classic example. My sister who is thirteen months behind me, pregnant, marriage broke up. Everything seemed to be falling apart, trying to raise three daughters. But somehow, she picked herself up, went and got her insurance broker's license, got a cosmetology license, and now travels all over the country teaching other people how to do all these new hairstyles and weaves and the like. And it goes all the way down to my baby sister, who is now a leader in the Urban League in Houston, in providing leadership for people coming off the welfare to work programs and the like. So it's evident. We only have one member of our family that it has been difficult. Because he got caught up in the drug culture and has not been able to rebound. But for the most part, everybody's doing extremely well. My older brother who is a manager -- in management with Foley's Department stores down in Houston. In a year, he was in a top management position. So it's just that kind of driven -- the sense that comes when one has -- I'm not sure being a workaholic is a great thing. I am certain that people notice you when they know that you have a sense about yourself that, "I know what my responsibilities are. And not only am I going to perform, but I'm going to do it with some measure of excellence."

BOND: It's obvious a point comes when other people recognize that in you. When did you recognize that in you?

FLAKE: I think I recognized that in me probably in the early stages of my college career.

BOND: Not in the lower grades? Not in high school?

FLAKE: To some degree, lower grades. But then -- you know, you were in leadership, but there was a difference in terms of how you saw yourself, how I saw myself. I think it emerged -- when it really emerged, I think, was when I was called to come and pastor in the place of a man who had had a heart attack. And he asked me if I would take the church and do all the ministerial functions at the age of nineteen. I think that's the first time I really, really started feeling like a leader. Because I had been thrust with this responsibility for a church of about three hundred people. And he was in no condition to do anything. And from then on, I began to rise in the ministry from that place.

BOND: In that instance, was there any sense that you could say, "No. I can't do this. This is too much. Too big for me"?

FLAKE: No, no. I never thought about it. I've never felt overwhelmed about anything. As a matter of fact, for me, anytime something new has come, I've seen that as just another opportunity to broaden my capabilities and broaden my horizons. This whole thing and that book Prayer of Jabez talk about extending your influence and extending who you are. I've always felt comfortable in believing that. If it was offered, it was an opportunity to extend and expand my capabilities to do more things.