Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influences on Leadership Development: Columbia University

BOND: What about Carlton Long, who — well, what about Carlton Long?

JEALOUS: Carlton was my first black male teacher. And it was the one of those things you don’t really realize what you’re missing until you have it, you know what I mean? You’re just sitting there and you’re looking at this man and he’s brilliant and he inspires you to just sort of think about your own potential and he taught me political science and theory. And he was sort of this kind of Paul Robeson-esque figure — booming voice, kind of athletic presence, very forceful and so when he talked about philosophy that was three thousand years old, the whole classroom paid attention. And he pulled me aside at the very end of the first semester. I had been helping him — I think that was the semester when he recruited me to help him with what became Black Men for Anita Hill.

And he said, “You know, Jealous, I think you would be a great candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship. I just came back a year ago.” And I said, “Well, have you seen my grades?” And he said, “Yes, you’ll have to improve those, but there’s time.” He said, “Let me guess. You went to public schools, didn’t you?” I said, “Well, yeah, you know, through the 8th grade.” He said, “That’s long enough. I bet that they told you that an A was excellent and a B was good and a C was average, a D was falling behind.” I said, “Yeah, that’s right.” And he said, “You’re getting a lot of B's, right?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “You think that’s good?” I said, “Well.” He said, “They lied to you.” He said, “Here, in the Ivy League especially, because we have this thing called grade inflation, in the Ivy League, especially, and an A’s on target, a B’s falling behind, a C is an F.” It radically sort of altered the way that I thought about my own academic achievement and my own potential and it would be some time before I could really put it into place.

I ended up getting involved in a lot of student protests at college and community service and athletics and things that sort of kept me out of the classroom, but when I came back from having been kicked out and working in Mississippi, my friends were gone and I really thought out what I wanted to achieve in the last two years of college, I decided I wanted to be able to pursue the Rhodes Scholarship because Carlton Long had put the seed in my brain at that point four years earlier and it had sort of grown into an ambition. And I remember what he said about grades and I literally — my grade point average went from being 3.2 for the first two years to above a 4.0 for the last two years simply because he set the bar higher than anybody had set the bar before.

BOND: And what about Father Bill Starr?

JEALOUS: Bill was a John the Baptist on campus. He had come to Columbia’s campus in 1965 and become sort of the spiritual leader and he and Rabbi David Saperstein are very much peers and they were both spiritual leaders of kind of anti-war protests with the Berrigan brothers and so forth, and he — but he had been on campus, and he nurtured a group of students who spiritually were very committed to the new commandment — whether they were Christians or not, and most of them were Reformed Jews — but whether they were Christians or not, the notion that really the commandment above all else is to love your neighbor as yourself and whose politics very much flowed from a judgment based on “Are we being treated with dignity? Are they being treated with dignity?” and so Bill, and as somebody who would also become a protest leader, who was often at odds with the administration and was dealing with stresses at home and whose grandparents couldn’t wrap their minds around the fact that their child’s one of the first students suspended from Columbia in over twenty years, he was somebody who really encouraged me to develop, I guess, a spiritual base to sustain myself. And it was — when I found myself in Mississippi, working as a journalist, getting death threats, I really came back to prayers and scriptures that we discussed with Bill as he allowed us to see the Bible as just a place of refuge for people who were committed to social change.