Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Philosophy

BOND: Let me go back for a moment to philosophy. When you speak to students, or college people, you ask them in commencement addresses to repeat the leadership creed and I just want to read a part of it. "Here I come, World. Some of you may try to convince me that race will limit my aspirations. I know better. Every day of my life I'll strive for excellence." Is that the Earl Graves philosophy? It's longer than that.

GRAVES: It is not only my philosophy, I do that at every graduation irrespective of whether or not it's Meharry Medical School or whether or not it is Brown University, if I were to – I have gotten an honorary degree, actually I didn't do the graduation speech at that event. But I've done that at every school that I've ever – so it's my signature. I believe that you've got to believe in yourself, and all I'm trying to get them to do is – because a lot of young folks at that time that they're ready to graduate don't have a vision of where they're going. Therefore, and they don't have a philosophy of how they're going to get there in their minds, "What am I going to do? What's going to be my compass to get there?" What I'm saying is what you've just heard for the most part I've been using that at an African American school because I want them to know that people have tried to beat them down and yet they've achieved what they have. There's an opportunity to go do it. "I'm going to go out there. I'm going to save money. I'm going to try to make a difference. I'm going to make a difference in this country, and if I can, make a difference in the continent of Africa," because you and I know that Africa is a continent. There are some people that are confused about that – a little side joke. But there's that much of a challenge out there in terms of what we have to achieve and what we have to do: healthcare, education, technology growth – all of those are things that we have to focus on. So my sense is that I'm saying that, to these students, I know I'm saying to these students, one, it's a part of my philosophy. It's something I believe, and I want to instill in them a spirit that says, "Let me out of here. I'm going out and change the world."

BOND: Part of this philosophy is, "I'll remember the vision of a better world for those still trapped in the vices of hatred and unequal justice," people at the bottom of the economic ladder. How does someone who's risen to the top – and you can argue that a college graduate has risen pretty much to the top – how does that person stay connected in any kind of way to the people at the bottom?

GRAVES: Well, the person is going to have to – you know, I find it difficult to believe – and you can as a conservative, and I have people come and visit me all the time and say, "I'm a conservative" – but I believe everybody deserves a right to education. So you cannot have been on this earth, have risen to some level of accomplishment and really not have seen the need to do something for health care. Everybody believes that everybody will have an education. That you might not want every body living next door to you. You may be a real racist, but you believe quality education. Because I believe education is the key to everything for people. And so I have met very few business people, who, if you present the pragmatic side of why they should support the Boy Scouts, they should support Morehouse College or Morgan State – I would say Morgan State, you would say Morehouse – that they would not see that. Now that doesn't mean that they want you to live next door to them or that they want to socialize with you but they can understand certain things. I mean, there's certain key things that make so much sense that it makes the blinding side of the racism you may still have in your head go away.