Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Early Leadership: Objections to War

BOND: Look back over your relatively short life. Is there a point where you began to think of yourself as a leader?

JEALOUS: Yeah, I mean, it was really at — in some ways the Jackson campaign was an experience, but I stuttered horribly. I would write all my speeches and I would try to read them and I would just — it was painful for the audience, it was humiliating for me. So it’s hard for me to think of myself as a leader. In my teenage vanity, I look at the photos in the paper and think I look pretty good. But I knew that the still photo was very kind and we saw that videotape. It’s a very different experience. At —

BOND: Let me stop you just for a second. So, prior to that, in high school, in grade school, although you never thought of yourself —

JEALOUS: No, I was the short stuttering black kid in the white school. I mean, I was exceptional and sort of on the outside in every sense. I was both the — I was the shortest person in my freshman class. A young Japanese lady, Kay Gatanaga, was a good friend of mine. She was like half an inch taller than me and I can remember — she was 5’ 2”. I was 5’ ½”. Senior year, I was 6’4”, she was still 5’2”. I’ll never forget Kay looking up at me and saying, “I used to be taller than you.” And all those things — and I’d also skipped a grade so I was a bit younger — just made me feel sort of on the outside, but when I got to college and I was tall and I was on the crew team — and the Gulf War broke out. And I — when you’re working twenty, thirty hours a week and you’re rowing crew twenty-eight hours a week, you don’t really have — and you’re going to class, you drink a lot of coffee and you don’t have much time for anything else, but I got a call from a friend back home who it looked like he was going to be activated.

One of my best friends had gone into the Reserves and I had gone off to college and it was just like — it was sort of like my father’s nightmare is coming back, right. One of the things when you’re a child of the ’70s, you grow up with all the Vietnam War back and forth. My father had been a conscientious objector. He had registered me as a conscientious objector when I was five because Carter started talking about the draft again, and he talked about the pain it caused amongst his friends, that some were killed in Vietnam and stuff and here we were, it’s like the children of the Vietnam vets turn eighteen and all of a sudden — I mean, literally the Gulf War started on my eighteenth birthday, started January 17th. I turned eighteen on the eighteenth, and I found myself at an all-night protest downtown, trying to shut down the Brooklyn Bridge and three students ended up — two or three students ended up jumping off the Bridge because somehow a driver got through the police barricade on the other side and just came plowing into the crowd. And to this day, I don’t know whether those students died or lived. I know they fell about seventy feet and there was conflicting accounts. And it just —

And I was towards the front of the march and it just — it was one of the most devastating experiences of my life. I ended up walking all the way back from the Brooklyn Bridge to Columbia. I get back on Columbia’s campus, and a couple of weeks earlier, I had been harassed there, about a week earlier, by an FBI agent who was looking for Iraqi students. He thought I looked vaguely Iraqi and I went off on him. By the time I lectured him about my family’s involvement here from the 1600s, he was just apologizing. I gave him a lecture on white privilege because he said his family had been here for less than fifty years, and so he just apologized. But I ran into a group of students who said that they were going downtown to do a sit-in in front of the FBI Building to protest the racial profiling of students on campus and I said, “Great,” and I ended up spending my eighteenth birthday in jail, but coming back to campus as sort of one of these heroes, right, who’d been to jail in the protests on the Gulf War and kind of being thrown up there to give speeches and having no time to write them because I’m working and I’m going — and I figured out I could give an extemporaneous speech and it was the first time in my life that I felt like, well, perhaps I can lead people and convince them of something.

BOND: First time? Now, remember, you’re fourteen and you’ve run this voter registration campaign. I mean, to me, that’s exercising some kind of leadership.

JEALOUS: Yes, it was, and it was successful and it gave me a sense of my own potential. But I guess in my eyes, leaders were ultimately people who could talk in front of folks, large numbers of people, and be understood and convince them. And stuttering — and stuttering horribly — made me feel like, and if you will, I could be a good sergeant but I couldn’t be the lieutenant.

BOND: But sergeants are leaders, too.

JEALOUS: Sergeants are leaders, too. Sergeants are leaders, too.