Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Expanding Leadership Definitions

BOND: In his book, Race Matters, Cornel West writes — that’s such a great title — “The crisis of leadership is a symptom of black distance from a vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by ethical ideals and from a credible sense of political struggle.” Do you see a crisis of leadership similar to this in black communities today and if you do, what makes that so?

IFILL: Well, it’s a crisis of leadership if you think that African Americans uniquely need to be led as if we need to anoint someone to take us from the wilderness. I think we’re past that. I think we’re at the point where it’s a broader swath of leadership we’re talking about. I consider leadership to be people who run for public office but also for people who open up a storefront, stores in an area of town which might not otherwise get commerce. I consider leadership to be volunteers who work with young girls. I consider leadership to be a broad range of things which don’t have to do with the ’60s notion of the one guy leading — or almost always the guy — leading everyone else so, sure, if you say — if your definition of leadership is a leader or a couple of a leaders, maybe there’s a crisis because that’s not the way we lead anymore and because of the sacrifices and because of the things that these single and dual leaders did, now we have this much broader idea of — we have the luxury of having a broader idea of what leadership is.

BOND: But isn’t that ’60s definition of leadership just that, a ’60s definition of leadership, and in an earlier period in American history, in our history, the definitions of people working with the Girl Scouts or working opening the store, would’ve fit leadership more aptly and therefore that when we think about leadership, we ought not just think about these ’60s leaders.

IFILL: Absolutely. We have to think about lots of ways in which we’re — I’m on the board of the Institute of Politics at Harvard where the students at Harvard — I don’t know how they do this — because they’re students at Harvard but they’re also tutoring students in Cambridge. They’re also doing a million different public service initiatives. Now, by doing public service initiatives, is that politics? Is that our old definition of what politics is? Well, no, it’s a new definition of what politics is. That’s where young people are motivated to move and just the same way in our community, we have to think about leadership in a broader sense which is not just about standing in a pulpit or standing at a podium.