Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Obligations of Leaders to Black Community

BOND: Do you think that black leaders have an obligation to other black Americans? Is there a point at which that obligation ends, if you do think that? And one can pursue his or her own ambitions?

JONES: One more time please.

BOND: Do you think that black leaders have an obligation to help other black Americans?

JONES: Hmmm —

BOND: Because you're black, do you have an obligation to —

JONES: Well, I can't say what anyone has an obligation to. I've broken so many rules of obligation. I am trying to — You know, a few years ago, I was bemoaning the fact that somebody who I respect like James Levine would accept a metal or an honor from Ronald Reagan and I said that — Here I became strident. I said, "look, he's famous enough as an artist. He's has enough cache that he could turn this award down and write a New York Times article, a feature, saying why he did it and he could make the voice of an artist actually have some political clout." I said that. I had no right to say that about him. He is a wonderful artist and his feeling is, my art transcends. My art is not one to fight these battles. It's for all the ages. Maybe that's what he would say.

BOND: And maybe he was saying I'm not taking this from Ronald Reagan, I'm taking it from the President.

JONES: Okay. Right. And can he make that —

BOND: I'm not sure.

JONES: Yes. I mean, you don't believe it either, but I was lucky enough to be given the honor during the age of Mr. Obama, right? Would I have taken it from — No one offered it to me during Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan. Would I have taken it? I don't know, if you're hungry enough as an artist you will. Now, you're saying black leaders now.

BOND: Yes, and we're putting you in this category however you resist it.

JONES: Yeah, [laughs] right, right, right. So, yeah, this idea of — Well, I've lost the sense of the question because I'm trying to make it —

BOND: Do you have an obligation to help other African Americans and is there a point where that obligation ends that you no longer have to meet that obligation, if you think you do? Or what is help? Do I have an obligation —

JONES: Uplift.

BOND: Pay attention to? Listen to?

JONES: Well, I start with my family. I start with my family, those young nieces and nephews I'm talking about. His mother died of cancer, who at age 18 are now left with a mortgage, a leaking roof, and they've got to educate themselves and they've done it. They pulled together on a busboy's salary. The oldest son actually leaves school and is raising his brothers and sisters. Yeah. And for me to actually find a way to talk to them and ask what do you need, I can't — I'm not unlimitedly wealthy but I can give a little bit. I can give money and what's more, here is an older person who's listening to you and asking you, what are your plans? That's how I do it. Take care. Clean up around your own door first.

When I'm speaking in a forum like this, to try to speak candidly about what I find I share with this notion of what a black American is and how I diverge and I hope that the ears are there to hear that black people can be — We can be in disagreement. I think that helps black people.

BOND: Well, it helps us. Thank you, Bill Jones, for being with us. We appreciate it.

JONES: Thank you so much, sir. It's a pleasure.