Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Helping Specific Groups

BOND: In a book called Challenging the Civil Rights Establishment, the authors quote William Allen and he writes of “a danger in continually” -- and these are quotes -- “thinking in terms of race or gender. Until we learn once again to use the language of American freedom in an appropriate way that embraces all of us, we’re going to continue to harm this country.” Is there a danger of divisiveness when we focus on the concept of black leadership?

HRABOWSKI: I don’t think so. Well, there's -- we always have division. Let’s start there. Yes, people were divided already, I mean, clearly. But any time I hear somebody say going back to something, once again, American freedom, for all people, yeah, right. People have had different definitions of who all people would mean for years, for centuries. We know that because some people just a hundred years ago would’ve been talking about the freedom to vote for everybody, so women and blacks, you know, so -- and that we are a wonderful country that is far from perfect. We are constantly struggling to be better and I do think that most people are decent human beings, I really do. But I think we are all the products of our experiences, our childhood circumstances, and the prejudices that our parents transmitted to us. We all have prejudices -- of course we do. And so our challenge it seems to me is to continue to educate people in such a way that while they can recognize the differences among us, whether it about how girls learn or between blacks and whites, how girls learn in science versus English or whatever, there are differences. There’re biological differences, to appreciate the strengths of every group, to be able to talk about ways in which we are similar and at the same time, to understand the challenges that every particular group faces.

Low-income white children face many challenges in this country and are less likely now than several years ago to go on to college. That is an issue, you know. Middle-class black children face the challenge of cultural perspective of popular culture and of people feeling comfortable using the word “bitch.” And the way they think about women, so we’ve got issues with every group. Right now on the campus today, we’ve got the problem that too few young women are majoring in computer science of any race in our country. The numbers have gone down so there is a need for leaders to be able to talk with some specificity about different groups.

The Hispanic population, the least well-educated population in terms of college degrees -- only about 11 percent -- and a part of the issue has to do with helping families to know what a difference this college education will make. Blacks will always say they want their kids to go to college. We have that as part of our culture. Whether we do the things we need to do it or not, we’ll say it, you see? So every group has different issues that we need to think about and effective leaders, whether it’s the president of a country or of a university, will have to be able to speak with some specificity about how we help each group to go to the next level.