Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Mentors: Teachers and Ministers

BOND: Your parents obviously had an enormous, enormous influence on you, but other than they, who touched you and pushed you forward when you were a young man and as you get older? Who did this for you?

HRABOWSKI: Sure. Sure. It would be the teachers and ministers. My minister, John Porter, at 6th Avenue Baptist had a major impact on my life, not only in terms of speaking but in giving me opportunities to be a leader in the church with the youth fellowship and something called the BTU --

BOND: Baptist Training Union.

HRABOWSKI: -- Baptist Training Union, yeah. And had been the president of the choir even though I can’t sing. And, you know what, and what the church did that was so wonderful was to reinforce good values, what we saw as appropriate values for children -- respecting authority, supporting each other, knowing the difference between right and wrong, wanting to do well in school. And in my church, when kids would do really well, the whole church would recognize them. And those of us who’d get 4.0, we’d get a standing ovation. Oh, oh, it was just -- I mean, every time they’d say, “There comes Freeman with that 4.0,” and oh, I’d work all year to get that standing ovation. It was just incredible and so it was a great experience -- and so the people in the church starting with John Porter, my minister, for sure, and then my principal, George Bell, whom I’ve often talked about.

George Bell was a mathematician and he was not a big man but he had a booming voice, and he could call a kid from down the hall and you’d would go, “Oh, my God, there’s Mr. Bell.” But he’d come into the classroom and put a math problem on the board. Anybody who could solve the problem could get a nickel. Whew, a nickel.

BOND: A lot of money.

HRABOWSKI: I could get five Tootsie Rolls. And everybody knew, everybody looked to me to see if I could solve it. And we’d have the whole day to bring him the solution. And it was an incredible strategy for getting people excited about mathematics. It really was. Then I’d work sometimes with other kids. Then it got to be a dime as it got more -- oh, a lot of money then. But he was to me the essence of true education and what it should do for people to get people excited about ideas. He was the one who had to handle the situation when you were suspended from school as a result of having gone to jail with Dr. King.