Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: Let me ask you a philosophical question. What do you see as the difference between vision, philosophy, and style. And how does any interaction between these three work for you? Vision, philosophy, style. How are they different? How do they work together, if at all?

FRANKLIN: Sounds like a graduate school oral exam question. I think vision is a map of possibility. It's mapping possibility. And having a picture of a life and existence, a world that doesn't currently exist but that could -- is achievable -- and that's what makes vision so exciting, I think, because although it is a form of almost utopian reality, if you will, it sort of speaks back to my contemporary situation. So vision -- a picture of where we might go. Philosophy, I think, is for me, is the rational grappling with important questions that give meaning to life and sort of -- that package of reasons and justifications for proceeding, for living as I do. And so a kind of philosophy of life gives me the sort of rational fallback for a particular existence. Style is, I think, the way you do the things you do, is a manner of framing one's philosophy and vision, just to move to your point about the interaction. It's a particular kind of almost art with which one construes one's own life and being in the world. And so, you know, style is that sort of, I think, kind of the surface packaging that makes it distinctive. And -- but it has to have substance, so we're certainly all familiar with people who have only style, a manner of carriage and presentation but there's no substance. That philosophy and the vision for me are the substance --

BOND: Are the substance.

FRANKLIN: -- and, yeah.

BOND: And do you think we -- you particularly, but we generally -- we're always unconsciously integrating these as we go along with our lives or we're putting it together almost on a moment-by-moment basis? We're integrating style, vision, philosophy, bringing it all, bringing it all together?

FRANKLIN: Yes. Absolutely, absolutely.

BOND: What vision has guided your life?

FRANKLIN: Well, I'd say that the vision for an inclusive, just community is the kind of city, neighborhood, world I'd like to live in and with my limited time on the planet, I'd like to devote that time to creating that world that is safe for all people, no matter what their color or religious commitments, or whether they have any religious commitments or not. It's a sense of creating safe public space for -- even for non-conformists. And so that's a part of the vision of -- the big vision, the social vision.

In terms of personal vision and a vision I'd hope for every other individual is the possibility of living a truly self-actualized existence in which all of my potential are fully explored and exploited and so that I don't reach the end of my life looking back with a sense of regret about what I should have tried. And I think that, for me, gives me a kind of energy and restlessness and a kind of audacity to risk making a fool of myself as I, you know, go back and try to learn piano because I didn't as an eight-year-old, or as I undertake -- I'm currently involved in a kind of world travel and trying to visit countries and look in on cultures that have always been intriguing to me that I haven't yet encountered. That's a part of what I'd like to sort of wrap up as a part of my brief life. I want to see the whole world and hear their music and taste their foods. So that's kind of the vision.

BOND: Has the vision changed over time? Is it different in any way now than it would have been five, ten, more years ago?

FRANKLIN: Let's say it has evolved to become a bit more expansive and inclusive. The more I discover new peoples and places, new ways of thinking about the divine or what the theologian, Paul Tillich, refers to as "the ultimate concern," it only deepens my curiosity to study more, you know, the ways of exploring truth in those traditions as well, as an intellectual. And I guess to some extent as my own kind of spirit internal, personal spiritual journey unfolds, I am enriched by other ways of praying, of meditating, of seeing the world and at the same time, the commitment to community, to service, to sort of doing things that don't necessarily advance my own personal agenda or well-being but enable other people to experience something of the self-actualization I'm talking about. That's important, and for me that's sort of the justice agenda. And I think that has been -- that's been fairly constant.