Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Travel

BOND: We've taken you up through college years and you've described this really rich mix of experiences, of travel overseas, education overseas, the black college experience at Morehouse. Prior to that, the integrated high school, some leadership positions. Great family influences, the influence of Bishop Ford. All of this taken together I'm guessing has made you who you are.

Is it at all possible to replicate this for larger numbers of people? I mean, you can't pick people's families for them. You can't pick their high school for them. But is it possible in some way to replicate your experiences or the kinds of experiences you've had for larger -- a larger group of people?

FRANKLIN: I think it is possible to replicate dimensions of it and I think I would thematize this in terms of crossing boundaries. I think that, you know, local religious communities and organizations, secular community serving organizations, youth groups of various kinds, as well as educational, public schools and private schools ought to be more intentional about finding ways to bring students together from across geographic, ethnic, racial, cultural boundaries. So that they can dialogue and perhaps work together. I mean, Habitat for Humanity provides some opportunities of that sort as well. But in addition to our sort of domestic encounter with others that can be -- I mean, forums can certainly be organized to facilitate that -- I think some international experience, particularly in the post 9/11 era where the rest of the world sort of regards Americans as very parochial and detached and sort of, "We don't care about the rest of the world. We don't know much about the rest of the globe and we can kind of carry on with a certain level of global naiveté because everybody wants to be an American anyway, and we've got it all." And I think we'd better work hard now to try to disabuse the rest of the world of that notion. And I would hope that certainly for kind of especially that ripe period of the high school years, I especially think that the rising senior, that is, those who have reached the junior year and are about to -- that summer, a lot of organizations try to create opportunities for students to travel. I just think it's very important for us to get outside and look back at ourselves.

BOND: But how do you overcome the tendency, the desire of many people, both within black America and within America period, to want to be with themselves, with people like them? I'm thinking about AMEs want to be with the AMEs, the Baptists want to be with the Baptists, and all. How do you get people to broaden their own horizons when they have this real tendency not to do so?

FRANKLIN: I think it's exceedingly difficult, and it's important to hold up for them the exemplars, the role models of people who have done that, who've walked kind of this often lonely ground into new places. And who have survived and who are the better for it. I think, you know, people like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. and so many others who benefited from international travel, from learning in unusual contexts and kind of leaving home, as it were. That we just really try to promote that is important. And I think to find resources in the religious tradition itself as well as in our cultural and literary traditions that talk about, you know, really being a world citizen. Being at home in a larger world. We are not alone. And you know, I think even, you know, I read Jesus' way, of thinking about his own self-understanding of moving beyond his own immediate community to encounter gentiles as a part of the mission, a part of his way of living a more fulfilled life, is this encounter with the other. And I think that that is a kind of paradigm that many of us in today's -- certainly in the church world but in the larger culture -- simply abandon. There's this almost a" dread of diversity" as I've heard one scholar name this. And I think if we can create safe harbors, if we can promote the successful examples, it makes a tremendous positive difference when you risk crossing the boundary. It's certainly I've experienced that in my life, and I try to encourage and promote that with other people.

BOND: Still, it's very, very difficult to do because people are afraid of the different, of the new, of the other. Strikes me as a tremendous challenge to help them overcome that.

FRANKLIN: Yes, yes.