Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: I'm going to move onto some questions about leadership generally, and leadership philosophy. Can you -- what difference do you see between vision, philosophy and style in expressing your leadership?

OGLETREE: I think it requires -- the most important one is vision. You can have all the style in the world, you could have all these philosophical concepts. But if you don't have a vision that would take you somewhere, the other two don't matter. And that's why it's important to have a sense of not just where we are, and try to analyze -- I'm not a historian. I'm more of a futurist than a historian. I mean, I have to look forward because if I had to focus on what we do now, it would seem hopeless, and there would seem no possibility of success. But the idea is to have an idea about the strategy of how we go forward.

And my vision has always been one that's been both theoretical and practical. That is, trying to address the issue of race in its most complex forms -- how to get along, as people, with differences around the world, around the nation, and literally around the neighborhood, number one. But then more practically, the vision talks about how to get beyond the tendency to think that everything can be solved by the legal system, or in a case, or in the courts. I have matured, I would say, to realize the courts are important but not the only way to solve our problems. I have matured to understand that there is a concept about self, sort of self help and personal responsibility, that as much as government should and ought to be held accountable and responsible for addressing the needs of the needy, we also have an even greater goal and challenge to address these issues as well.

That's why I've been pushing the idea of parents getting involved in public education. That's why I've been very skeptical of these silly plans like Leave No Child Left Behind -- No Child Left Behind -- which made sense when Marian Wright Edelman talked about it and gave it a philosophy but is completely ridiculous as applied by the Bush administration and its application to our concerns today. And that's the vision, to say that we have to be responsible. We have to figure out a way how those who fled, the black lower class that fled, like whites, as a result of integration and abandoned urban America, have to find a way to reinvest and recapture urban America. Because when 50 percent of our children are dropping out of high schools in urban areas around the country, it's not someone else's problem. It's our problem, and we have to take account.

When we have over a million people in jails and prisons and over half of them are African American, we have to think about re-entry programs because those young men who were sentenced when they were seventeen for crack cocaine, served fifteen years, they don't have a high school diploma, they can't get a job, they can't vote -- they have no way to be functional and effective members of society -- our vision has to tell us we have to find a way of incorporating, those young men back into the fabric of our society if we're going to make a difference.

But it's also style as well, as since that that in order for us to be credible, we have to be able to relate in intergenerational ways. And I talked about some of the clients, but I also represented Tupac Shakur at a critical time in his career before he was murdered in 1996. And I can see "Here is an artist with tremendous talent who was often confused, but who is someone that represented the frustration and mirrored the anxiety of our hip hop generation." That's why it's so important. I'm working with Russell Simmons, who is looking at reparations and trying to educate the younger generation why it's important for them, as a sense of understanding history, the enormous sacrifices that African Americans have made and Africans made to this country that have yet to have been documented in some serious way.

And at the same time I'm encouraged that my former student, Barack Obama, a young African American, the first black president to Harvard Law Review, is now -- hopefully will be an African American senator from the state of Illinois. That's the vision to not simply try to continue to expect those of us who are fifty and over to solve our problems, but find those who are twenty and thirty to take our places. We can't waste this talent or waste this opportunity. So, I'm reaching out, aggressively to find this young brilliant talent to take over the challenges that we have. And you have to be able to, in terms of style, you have to be able to operate in the suites where decisions are made, and in the streets, where the pressure comes, to help make those decisions. You have to have a strategy that involves operating in both environments or else we have no chance of succeeding.