Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Personal Impact of Social Movements

BOND: Well, I don’t want to give you extravagant praise, but I think it does trickle down, in this case. Let’s shift gears again. Some people characterize making of leaders in three different ways. One is great people cause great events. Movements make leaders. Or the confluence of unpredictable events creates leaders appropriate for the times. Does one of these fit you?

HRABOWSKI: The latter two would fit in that no doubt being born in 1950 and being a child in the ’60s when Dr. King and others said we want children to go to jail made a big difference in my life. It really did. I was fortunate to be -- have been born at the time that I could be a part of that experience, to observe, to watch, to participate, and to do a small part. Just, I mean -- it was very important. And so you see, after that event, people used me to talk about the experience because many of the children who were in jail were from the projects. There weren’t a lot of middle class kids who had had the advantages of educated parents who went. There were a few of us but for the most part, the people who went were the folks who had the most to gain from their point of view. The people who didn’t go, in many cases, were worried, understandably, that they might lose things. They were wonderful people, but they were worried. They were telling my mother, “You sure you’re going to let -- he went to jail, you’re going to leave him in there?" You know, and so what am I saying? I am saying that I had the opportunity to speak and reflect on that movement for years.

When I went to Hampton, the president wanted me to talk about that experience -- Jerome Holland, who became ambassador to Sweden -- when I became very involved in leadership activities on campus, and he was a superb fundraiser and he knew how to bring me out. I mean, just as one of these boys from the South, to talk about the experience, I mean -- and so it was great. They’d take me to New York to speak and so I was having all these experiences throughout high school and college, all of which prepared me to talk about what I really believe and to say to people this is something you ought to think about. This what leaders do, if you think about it. We talk about what we really believe and we try to pull people into that work.

BOND: Does your legitimacy as a leader -- is it grounded in your ability to persuade people to follow your vision or is it your ability to articulate the agenda of a movement?

HRABOWSKI: It’s a great question. I think it’s somewhere involving those things and more, though. I think that true leaders have to be able to understand the people to be led or the group and the cause and to struggle with those people in developing a vision. We’ve had to struggle here in determining who can we be and how can we be excellent at something given the circumstances here. It wasn’t about me. It wasn’t about one or two people. There were a lot of people who worked to come to this point of where we are, so, first of all, it’s being able to work with people to struggle, to come up with the vision you want to have. That’s not obvious itself, first of all. Then secondly, then it becomes a matter of how do you express it with enthusiasm and authenticity. How -- and how can you get others to buy into that vision and so it’s the combination of working to develop and build a consensus, then being able to represent people, and finally, being able sometimes to push to go to the next level and just to sort of determine what is the next level for an institution, for a race, for a country.