Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Black Leaders’ Obligation to African Americans

BOND: Do you think that black leaders have a special obligation to help black people?

PINN: This is tough one. Not for me, but I think in terms of expressing it. I think — actually, "yes" is the simple answer. I think you do. Does a black person have an obligation to not overlook and not forget the communities and the people that you came from and when you can help them and to inform them and to help them improve, why shouldn’t you?

BOND: Is there a time when that obligation ends and you’re free to pursue personal interests or professional interests, or other interests?

PINN: Oh, I don’t know that it needs to be exclusive. I’m not sure that it’s an exclusive obligation.

BOND: They happen together.

PINN: It’s not an exclusive obligation. Just as I have had concerns looking at minorities in medicine when in fact we made the big plea or many made the big plea that we need more blacks in medicine because they will go back to their communities and so I then — what I witnessed was that there were medical institutions that would say we had an application from a black student who was great but we didn’t take that student because that student wanted to be a researcher and didn’t talk about going back to the community. My response is our community is everywhere, so why would you deny that student the opportunity to enter into the research environment or the hospital environment? Why do you only see the community as being the ghetto or the black street?

I don’t think that every minority who goes into medicine has to necessarily treat just minorities. Most of them will, but I don’t think that’s a requirement, just as I don’t think that we would have anything against someone who went to a non-minority physician. If you’re sick, you want the best expertise. I think our responsibility is to develop that expertise in a variety of individuals and hope that if you are sick as a patient you will have access to the best care there is. But at the same time, I don’t think that because you are black, that you should resist speaking to or catering to the black community, but it doesn’t mean you should do it exclusively.

I see and say the same thing about women in research. That we support careers for women in research but I know that not all women’s health research is going to be done by women, nor should it be. And so we support both career development for women as well as career development for both men and women who may do women’s health research. I think the same thing applies in terms of community service, leadership, and contributions to the community.