Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Community

BOND: Very quickly, because our time is ticking away -- how can we create or foster effective leaders for the future?

NORTON: People are in different positions to do that. If you are in the Congress, you have a special obligation because you speak to people all the time, because you have internships and the rest, but what people who have had a fair chance at life have to understand is something occurs today that I have to say I do not remember being particularly important when I was growing up. Maybe it was because the media wasn't important. But apparently, young people really do want to talk to role models. They really do want to learn from people whom they regard as successful. I never -- and some of this devolves into something that I really don't like, which is a sense of celebrity, celebrity for its own sake.

But leaving that aside, it does seem to me that whether you're living on a street with some kids who're being bad, and you're simply living on that street, or whether you are a member of Congress, you've got to ask yourself, "Do I have a role to play with these young people?" And because people have so many different roles in society, you've got to figure that out for yourself. But if you feel as I do that many young people today have lost their way, it certainly isn't enough to sit up there and say, "You've lost your way." There has got to be a way to say, "Look, whatever role I can play is real small." First, we got to come to grips with that, but it does seem to me that children crave the kind of nourishment and attention that was far more automatic when I was a child.

BOND: Are you going to write another article like the one you wrote for the New York Times years ago to lay this problem out so that more people than will ever see this TV tape can read about it, learn about it, pass around, figure out strategies?

NORTON: I have been trying to think about how I should -- I feel so deeply about the subject that I should really write a book about it and I've been trying to think about how to write a book about it, and I may indeed do that. I just supported a bill here with a Republican -- a conservative Republican, Sam Brownback -- who is the committee that receives our appropriation -- money, by the way, that was raised entirely in the District of Columbia. I've known him for a long time, he's very conservative. But he's also a guy that I like and on some issues, we agree.

He's come forward with a notion about marriage development accounts in which 100 percent funded, voluntary accounts and where an engaged couple, a married couple, could save for a house or to further education, stuff like that, and the federal government would match it three-to-one. You know, I said to Sam, "Sam, I like the idea because you and I are operating on the same theory -- that at the bottom, at bottom, the reason for the decline in the black family started with economic factors, and you're trying to deal with it with economic factors. If it's voluntary, I'm for it."

I just gave some testimony and in the testimony, I lay out why I thought some people would regard with some suspicion a conservative Republican willing to talk about marriage in the District of Columbia, a largely black city, and then I lay out more of why I think this is appropriate. So I'm saying to myself, if I keep finding opportunity to talk about this as I am now, or to write about it as I did in this testimony -- because I didn't so much write about marriage development accounts, I wrote about the black men and the black family -- but I ought to sit down and not write my own autobiography, but write about this issue which I regard as the overriding issue facing our people today.

BOND: Let this be the beginning of it. Eleanor, thank you so much for being with us.

NORTON: My pleasure, Julian.

BOND: Thank you.