Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Reaching Different Groups

BOND: I saw you last night speaking to that audience. And you were, of course, perfectly at ease, relaxed, and comfortable within yourself and where you were and the circumstances. And I'm wondering do you have a different style when you're addressing a black audience or an overwhelmingly white audience or a mixed audience? Is there a different floor? Flake, I don't mean dishonestly different, but just different.


BOND: The same in every respect?

FLAKE: No, exactly the same thing. I mean, what you saw when I came in that room last night, I don't know whether you noticed, I shook everybody's hand. So I developed -- I want to connect. And I want to have that kind of relationship. So that before I get up to do the speech, people have already -- if they came with tensions. They came uncertain. They have a different feeling. Because this guy came over and shook my hand. He's not running for political office. Some people ask, "Well, what does he want?" I guess they would have expected a sales pitch or something at the end of the speech. But I'm generally that way. I'm that way in the pulpit. I don't sit in my chair. I move around during the worship services. I sit in the pew for a minute. I'll stand on the side. And I greet everybody. If there are ten people, twenty people in the hallway, I greet every one of them individually. And then when I'm up speaking, the same speech that I gave last night is the same speech that I would give in any environment.

BOND: Let me push you on this now. Last night you got a lot of "uh-huh, mm-hmm, that's right, uh-huh." Not quite "Amen," but right up close to that. Had that been an overwhelmingly white audience, I don't think you would have gotten that. Not that you wouldn't have been appreciated. I don't think you would have gotten it. At least you wouldn't have gotten it to the same degree.

FLAKE: Probably not the same degree. You're right. But they -- most white audiences connect to what I say.

BOND: And you connect to every audience in the same way?

FLAKE: In pretty much the same way.

BOND: Because speaking for myself only, I think I am different depending on the audience I'm facing.

FLAKE: Yeah. Well, what I do --

BOND: My message is the same.

FLAKE: I think, difference is not message.

BOND: Yes. No, I'm not talking about message.

FLAKE: Okay. Difference is flow. If I'm in a predominately black audience, one thing that probably will happen is I'm going to throw in more scripture. And I'm probably going to get into more of a preachy flow, if you know what I mean.

BOND: Yes, I know what you mean.

FLAKE: Okay. In a white audience, I may get into that if I get a connection, where I begin to see. But as you know, most white audiences do not respond with the -- verbally. And in a black audience, if you get a few verbal responses and head shakes, then you go with a whole different kind of flow. In a white audience, generally, they may shake their head. You can see they're attentive. But you don't get into the rhythm. There's kind of a thing you kind of connect to. So, to that degree, yeah. But I would give that same message.

BOND: No, I wasn't talking about a message difference, but almost a stylistic difference.

FLAKE: Yeah, yeah. No question.