Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Developing Modern Leaders

BOND: Is there a way you can make people less comfortable, you can cause them to be uncomfortable about today's circumstances? How can you motivate young, older people, to have the kind of commitment that you describe your classmates in New York having, drawing this enormously talented group of people together to do good works? Why don't we see that today? How can you make that happen today?

HEIGHT: I think it's a leadership issue, too. I think that leaders have to bring things within the reach of people, communicate around the issues they understand. Not the broad issues of justice, but the small issues of mandatory sentences. I mean, we have to break it down so they begin to see how the political and social climate in which they live is determining how far they're going to go unless they themselves take hold. If they don't start to do something about it, you know, and that's -- I think that's -- I think we have a need there to rethink the way we encourage and the way we strive to motivate people. I find that -- well, recently I was talking to a group of young people, and they said, "Well, we never realized that." And I said, "Well, have you sat still long enough to listen to it?" Do you see? Now you have to get in between all the different messages they're getting. They're getting messages of all kinds, from music, from all these kinds of forces, so that we -- and from the media and all -- so that I think it means that there is something there that we have to say. Leadership today has to be willing to step out and risk helping to say to young people, "This is the way. Have you thought of this way? And do you see this way as degrading and downward?" I think we have to do that. When I was fourteen I heard a woman recite that poem about a high way and a low way and you could choose. And I was fourteen years old. I didn't sleep all night.

BOND: That was a Pennsylvania state representative.

HEIGHT: A woman who was elected Pennsylvania state representative. And I thought, "That is really something she is saying." And I think that many times young people just need someone and need to be in situations where the leadership dares to speak out the truth, but also speak it out with full respect for the fact that they live in a different day. And you cannot tell them what you -- I can't tell them what I did, because it's a totally different day, but I can certainly help try to share with them what a difference it made in my life to be able to find myself looking at it now and saying I learned the difference between having a job or a position, or being elected to something or appointed to something, and in having my own purpose, sense of purpose, and my own life's work. I learned the difference in that, but I learned that from the groups in which I effectively worked. And I think many of our young people today are out there on their own trying to do it. They need to be a part of organizations that have purposes, of organizations that have defined goals that are related to their goals, and that can often help them find their goal because the way the goals are stated, then objectives. It's a leadership role that is very much needed in our communities, and I think that our young people, I believe, will respond better if we take more of a hand.