Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leaders for the Future: Moving Beyond Issues of Race

BOND: What kind of leaders does contemporary society demand? How will future problems demand different leadership styles?

JEALOUS: Society demands that leaders put race behind us in engaging the larger public and find ways to encourage society to do the same. We’ve made about as much progress as we can make in this country without moving beyond racism. You know, race and ethnic identity are very important — people’s sense of self and being grounded and connected to a broader community. But these silly notions that one group is more criminalistic or mentally inferior or mentally superior or pristine because of the color of their skin is ridiculous and we know scientifically it’s as ridiculous as hair color or eye color, and yet we still permit ourselves to fixate on it and for it to imbue our politics and our corporate hiring decisions. In this country, there’s been a study at Princeton, Devah Pager said it was harder for a black man with no criminal record to get a job than a white man with a criminal record. It should be deeply disturbing to everybody.

One of the best leaders I saw in encouraging people and leading people out of this tradition in my life was Jack Kemp. And I saw Jack give — I was aware of kind of all the things he had done as a football player, an early athlete and his comments that he’s never had any problem fighting for the guys that he used to have to shower with, and just talking about the humanity between football players and how it changes politics. But I saw him stand up in south central Los Angeles to a group of black folks and give a speech about our kids and he was clearly talking about kids just like, two blocks away at the local failing school — “Our kids, our kids, our kids” — and I’m standing there then as the head of the Trade Association of Black Newspaper looking at him going, “Whose kids are you talking about? Who’s he talking about? Does Jack have kids in south L.A.?” And then correcting myself, you know, of course, he’s talking about all — we’re all Americans, they are all our kids. It's struggle in my own life, but it’s something I think all of us, whether you’re a white Republican like Jack Kemp or a black independent Democrat like myself — I vacillate on those two — get frustrated with Democrats sometimes. We have to challenge ourselves, because race — the contours of racism in our society ultimately are things that too many of us find comfort in.