Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Foundational Experiences: Teaching and Leading

BOND: Go back to your earlier years again. I’m interested in how you developed your leadership skills. Where do you think that began for you?

HRABOWSKI: Sure. It began in elementary school when I was ahead of my group because they started me when I was four in school. And a great story about the colored superintendent of schools who was my godfather, Dr. Hays. He was another of my heroes. You know, there was a colored superintendent and he was the one who hired my mother. He knew she was a rebel but knew how smart she was and he supported her and got her into the Birmingham City Schools. And so he became my godfather when I was born, a couple of years after that, and what happened was that my mother, first of all, said I was born in the classroom. She hid the fact that she was pregnant for a long time because once you became pregnant, you couldn’t continue to teach. And my mother and father had been married ten years and amazingly -- so she taught almost up until the last month or two and so she always said, “You were born in the classroom. You were born to teach.” I was told that all my life and she always wanted me not to become a principal. She thought the highest job you could have would be either be a high school principal and she said, “Too much stress. Stay in that classroom. Work with those children. Born to teach.” So that's --

And the key is that even as a first and second grader, I was given two or three kids to work with because I’d already gone through the work and I learned teaching and leading as very similar processes, the idea of connecting with people and it sounds silly to say I could be five and teaching, but I literally was -- It was about words and little problems and I just got -- I was so bored they had to do something with me, and I loved helping somebody else get to be good. My job was always to take some of the slowest kids and make them really good and get them to believe they could do it and this was great and so starting then I was --

BOND: And you did this at Hampton, too?

HRABOWSKI: I did this from age five, all of my life, all the way throughout high school and then in college, I was always leading the tutoring group and then at Illinois I really -- I had a big tutorial center I started for black kids at the undergrad level and statistics at the grad level.