Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Influences: Parents and Immigrant Culture

BOND: Let me back up a little bit from your working at the newspaper. Who were the people who influenced whom you — the person you are today and I’m assuming you’re going to say parents and so on, so I want you to talk about them, but others, too.

IFILL: Parents are huge for me, partly because our lives were so prescribed by being immigrants and being — my father was an ordained minister so we moved a lot.

BOND: What did being immigrants mean?

IFILL: Being immigrants means that African Americans and West Indian Americans aren’t necessarily on the same page. There’re the same tensions between people from other places. Maybe it’s the same, people from Alabama and Georgia. I don’t know. I just know that we were different, but that was exacerbated by the fact that my father was an AME minister and we moved every couple of years so it wasn’t like I grew up in one community my whole life and made the same sort of friends who I kept lifelong. So we were always being put in positions where we were new, where we were the other, not just with people of other races but also within our race. And we were the preacher’s kids, so everybody was watching us and keeping an eye on us and making sure we weren’t misbehaving, so there was a lot that made us tighter as a family because we were often the only people we knew in a certain situation.

In addition to that, my father was outspoken. He was a loud mouth. He was someone who didn’t take no for an answer. He was incredibly articulate in the best meaning of that word. He was someone who didn’t ever — he saw injustice and spoke up, which meant that he was often in awkward positions, but I watched that. I watched that, and I also watched my mother who was, at first glance, looked to be a pretty neat preacher’s wife who just basically carried the water for everyone else, but that’s not true. She raised an incredible family and she raised — altogether, there were four boys and two girls and so she had a hand in shaping us and telling us what the possibilities were and that’s when I say my parents — I don’t mean just because they were nice parents and they raised us well — but because they never told us what the limitations were first. They always told us what the possibilities were first. And therefore, when I then went into the workplace and people told me, “No, you can’t do that,” my first instinct wasn’t "Oh well, they’re right. I can’t do that." My first instinct was, "Well, what are the possibilities here or is it even something I want to do?" And occasionally along the way, I encountered people who saw that in me.