Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Nuturing Future Leaders

BOND: In past years we've been used to a certain kind of leadership and even in recent years that kind of leadership has changed. It's not the Martin Luther King standard altogether anymore. What about in the future? Are there going to be new kinds of leaders that society is going to demand that we have? What kinds of people are they going to be?

BRAUN: You know, I don't have a crystal ball, and it's a very interesting question because I was joking yesterday, just as recently as yesterday with a friend, and I said, you know, "We have reached the point in history where both George Orwell and Marshall McLuhan look like prophets." The nature of so many of the things that characterize civil society has changed. Just as Abraham Lincoln — you know, they say Abraham Lincoln couldn't be elected today because he was too tall, lanky and ugly, right? Today you have to be telegenic. Today you have to able to speak a different kind of language. You have to understand celebrity. You have to be able to — I mean, there's a set of different demands and that change in the society, the information technologies and the like, is by definition going to change leadership and change the people who the public will embrace as leaders and what they will be, I don't know.

BOND: Have you any idea of how we as a whole society, how can we foster, create and nurture leaders for the future? What can we do we're not doing now?

BRAUN: Education, education, education, education. The thing that frightens me the most about where we are as an American society is what has happened with education and particularly the availability of educational opportunity from the very earliest years to all children. The whole ideal of quality universal public education is very much on the bubble, very much challenged, very much at risk now. And that's a whole set of conversations we could talk forever on that. That's one set, but as much the point, going beyond that, even for higher education, young people now are having to spend so much money to afford higher education. It's changing the nature of who can access it.

I mean, we're almost back to what Thomas Jefferson had, which was the elite got to go to college and everybody else, you know, just worked. Then you've got the role of the media, and this is not a negative way, but media in the generic, larger sense. I mean, people — The community as a whole gets the vast majority of its information from something that sees value in dumbing down the conversation. And so when you're having conversations with people in a democratic system, remember, that depends on voters making a judgment, with people who don't have even the basic information with which to analyze developments in their lives. What you've set up— and this is back to Marshall McLuhan and George Orwell— what you've set up is a society that is very volatile and very much capable, very much amenable to demagoguery and to folks just getting up and making a pretty speech and riling up the passions and getting people going and sending them over a cliff.

BOND: I thought that was the last question, but I've got to ask this one. Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future?

BRAUN: I'm always an optimist. I'm always an optimist. I have to be because the pessimism is too depressing, I mean it just — you get pessimistic and you just get immobilized by it. And my optimism comes because I know enough young people out there who really — my son, by way of example, I have no idea where Matt gets his news from. He's a computer geek and we talk about… and he'll say something, there'll be some specific bit of information that goes right to the heart of what it is we're talking about. I'll say, "How did you know that?" "Oh, I picked it up." He reads news sources on his computer that I've never heard of. He blogs or something. I don't know. That's another universe.

BOND: It's age-related.

BRAUN: It's age-related, but the point is that here our young people who actually do have the vision, actually can sort the wheat from the chaff, understand when it's BS versus — I shouldn't have said that on tape, but you know what I mean — who understand that, and can see it, and as long as they're around, then I guess the future will be in good hands.

BOND: Well, on that optimistic note, thank you for being with us.

BRAUN: Julian, I can't thank you enough. Thank you for inviting me.

BOND: My pleasure.