Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Key to Leadership: Success Breeds Success

BOND: But even thinking about this experience you had in the white school where you become the leader of this group of white kids, the Black Knights, that seems to me like a prediction that you’re going to be a politician. That somebody who can take people different from himself and put them into a cohesive group and lead them -- that’s a natural politician.

RANGEL: Well, all we had in Harlem were gangs, so when I came here talking about gangs, this is the most exciting thing to happen to them. And so I became a natural leader because I was the only one that knew about gangs. And so everything that I knew in Harlem, I was able to bring to this Jewish community -- and I’m not saying their parents were excited about it, but I was. You know, I think that once you acquire the ability to get things done that you want to get done and persuade other people that you can, and you do it -- that’s the kind of leader I like to be.

BOND: Well, that seems to me that’s the kind of leader you are -- someone who convinces other people to do things you want done that they may not even want to do, but somehow or another you’re able to convince them that these are the things they ought to do. Now, where does that come from? How did you develop this ability?

RANGEL: Whatever works. Whatever works works.

BOND: I mean, does it go back to the high school or even beyond that, before that?

RANGEL: Oh, my mother said that when I went to kindergarten, she knew I was going to be somebody because I insisted on having a desk when they didn’t have a desk. But no -- I consider leaders like Nelson Mandela, a person that can be jailed for twenty-seven years and be tolerant enough to want to forgive the wardens -- those are leaders.

I think Martin Luther King, who loved his wife and children but was so compassionate about the cause that he would jeopardize his life and all of those lives. Fannie Lou Hamer — when I would be with her and with Percy Sutton and Paula Dwyer, these crazy white folks were bombing houses. They had a complete disregard for human life. And I will always reserve, in my mind, those people that, yes, can get people excited enough to do the right and the moral thing at the risk of their lives and have the ability to eloquently do it. And so, there’s no question that I can get things done politically. I’m excited about it, and success breeds success.

I was talking to a group of people in the State Department yesterday and I asked them were there any poker players in the group. Winning at poker -- when you’re winning, it excites you. And when you’re losing, you can almost predict you’re going to have a bad night. There’s very little turnaround and when you’ve been on a roll to succeed, there’s so many people that want to do what you want done because they want to be a part of that success. And the epitome of it is after you’ve spent thirty-seven years in the House of Representatives with four hundred and thirty-five people that are depending on each other to get legislation, but came there from four hundred and thirty-five roads so that you really are not dependent on them politically, it’s a political independence that is just absolutely remarkable. And then when you become Chairman, you have so many new friends.

Right now, we have jurisdiction over taxes, over trade, over Social Security, over Medicare, but when I go to the White House and meet with the Secretary of State, it’s for national security and education, to me, and getting away from poverty and making this country competitive and making certain that internationally we don’t have to depend on other countries to educate us are the things that Brown v. the Board of Education are about, except as Chairman of the Ways & Means Committee, this is what America has to be all about. We should not have to ask people to send us their educated in order to maintain our competitive edge, and a part of our trade policy now is education.

And poverty just isn’t a lot of pain. It’s costly. Poor folks are a threat to our national security. They don’t get health care. They don’t get education. They’re not productive. They’re inclined to get into trouble. They get sick. They’re in the hospital. They’re jails and do drugs -- so, hey, we’ve got to eliminate that if we’re going to maintain our international leadership.