Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Obligations of Black Leaders

BOND: As a black leader, do you have an obligation to help black people? Is there a point at which that obligation might end and you can pursue your own professional ambitions?

HRABOWSKI: I have mixed feelings. I am what the old-timers would call a race person. Make no mistake about it. And I can say this to whites very comfortably, very comfortably. It doesn’t take away from my ability to be supportive of my students or my white colleagues at all, but just as we were with a woman president today and she’s going to always help women, there’s no doubt I need to be -- I know I’m always a role model for students in general and for African Americans, young African American males and females. They’ll say, "Well, if he can do it, I can do it!" And so I have been taught by my parents that of those to whom much is given much is required. I am supposed to be supportive of people in general and I’m especially supposed to reach out to the poor black children and do whatever I can to give them support.

Now -- now, with that said, I have colleagues who are scholars, who are African Americans, and we’ll talk about these issues. Some feel as I do, but depending on where they were born, when they were born, what their disciplines are, others don’t necessarily feel that way and while I may argue and say, “I want you to think about this,” I finally believe that they have the right to decide how to live their lives, so when somebody finally says, “Freeman, that’s not my issue,” I will say, “I grieve about that, but I give you that right. That’s your right. I don’t give you that right. I accept the fact you have the right to live your life as you want to.”

Now, I am such a pushy educator, I’ll still keep working to get some of those young people because these are often young people who grew up in -- young meaning under fifty -- who’ve grown up in a different period who now are wealthy, who think, "Well, I made it myself," and they don’t even understand that the reason they were able to do so well was because their parents were educated because of what happened during the civil rights movement and Brown and those kinds of things that they got those advantages. They don’t see that. They just think, "I worked hard," and so you’ve got those issues even in our race and I’m saying, but you can’t force anybody to do anything. It has to be because the person believes it, senses it, and has that sense of obligation. So that’s what I mean when I say a mixed answer. I know for me and mine, we should be concerned about these things forever, and I’ll work to get others to think about it, but I wouldn’t want to force anybody because that’s not authentic. That wouldn’t be authenticity.