Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Academic Networking

BOND: What did the whole experience — what did that leave you? What did it do for you?

LEFTWICH: It changed my world.

BOND: How so?

LEFTWICH: Because being a Fulbright Fellow is a very important distinction. And in those days when there were not scholars — Rhodes Scholars — who were women or black, the leading honored scholars in the United States who were not male and white were Fulbright Fellows. So that — and I had never — I was going as a Fulbright Fellow because I wanted to live abroad. I wanted to learn things. I just wanted to go. I had no idea that as I moved through life that being a Fulbright Fellow would be as much of a passport to things as it has turned out to be. During the spring vacation while I was living in Berlin, Inga and I traveled together and we went to lots of places. I had heard about Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. They had a Bologna center. So we routed ourselves in through Milan, down through Florence into Bologna so that I could be interviewed. I was accepted and given a scholarship to SAIS for when I decided to come back. I have been nominated just recently to serve on the board of the Fulbright organization. As I have gone through life I've run into people who were Fulbright Fellows who've said, "Oh yes," and with whom there's been this relationship.

BOND: Isn't this another one of the networks we were talking about, different from the black network?

LEFTWICH: That's right.

BOND: But a network nonetheless.

LEFTWICH: A network. No, absolutely it created a tremendous network for me. Just like politics has created a network. In the meeting that we had earlier today there was a mayor, a former mayor of Charlottesville, who came because I was there. A former deputy mayor of Philadelphia. There are these linkages. There are these networks that help people connect when they travel through life. And I just feel that we need to try to help people. What is it called? It's called the — well, it's called networking now, but people, I think, mean something a little different by it.

BOND: Doesn't mean getting a job.

LEFTWICH: It means — it's much more driven by an objective. It's much more task-oriented.

BOND: And it's about connectedness rather than material gain.

LEFTWICH: That's right. This is about connectedness, and it's sometimes there has been some gain. For example, I went to work for the Ford Foundation because Paul Ylvisaker who at that — and I know you know who Paul was — was the head of that very advanced, creative division of the Ford Foundation that made the poverty program possible. Paul was a graduate of the University of Minnesota.

BOND: I was about to ask. How'd you get to Minnesota?

LEFTWICH: I got to Minnesota because I left the SAIS because SAIS was racist. I had these people who — (here I am, bilingual in German and English, and I had a class with a woman who was an Austrian who kept acting like I couldn't speak German. Here I had given papers because I was always a serious student. I had done research on papers and given papers in graduate classes. I was in graduate school there. I wasn't an undergraduate in Germany -- in German, and had not really spoken much English. All my friends spoke German) -- who acted as though I didn't understand German and that my German was poor. And I got sick of it.

My parents were supporting — although I had a scholarship that paid my tuition and it paid for my books. But my parents were supporting me to live in Washington, D.C., and I said, "This is ridiculous. I am not paying money to get a degree from a school I'm going to have to fight half the time I'm there." Plus, I took the Foreign Service Exam, and — you get passed around to all these agencies when you're at SAIS. There are only fifty students there. Twenty-five were first-year students and twenty-five were second-year students. Interviews were set up, and these people in the State Department and CIA and USIA and all of these foreign aid — all these international organizations and federal government kept asking me about my secretarial skills.

And finally, when I'd been in Europe I had a very good relationship with the USIA and America House. And I would give lectures for — in the East, in East Berlin — for people who were interested in the United States whom the United States was hoping would defect. I would go over and give lectures to them in German. So I, then, in the United States, am hit in the face — it must have been like the soldiers coming back from the Second World War — with all of this bigotry and bias. I decided, "Enough of that. I'm not paying money for this abuse."

I had been accepted at the University of Minnesota before I got the Fulbright, and when I got the Fulbright I wrote them and told them that I had an opportunity I couldn't turn down. Well, I wrote them again. I said, "Well, I'm back. I'd like to come back." They said, "Come on. You'll get an assistantship. We'll give you--" I said "I don't have any money for things like room and board." Of course I was a big girl, I was a grown up then. [They] said "Well, we'll give you a job as a senior— as a counselor in the senior women's dorm." And between the scholarship for tuition and the work in setting up a public administration library for the University of Seoul in Korea, which was my project, and living in the women's dorm, I was able to finish my master's degree.

But Paul had been a graduate of the Public Administration program, which is now called the Hubert Humphrey School of Public Affairs. And he was invited to come back and spend some time there with the graduates. A small graduate class. There were like twenty-two of us — just as Senator Humphrey was at the time. But Paul came and he stayed for a year. Here again I was the only African American anywhere around. And he and I just sort of bonded. He went on back to the Ford Foundation. I wrote him when I was leaving Minnesota saying I wanted to go work in the United Nations. And Paul said, "No. The Ford Foundation has some other things that are I think much more down your alley. Why don't you come on to Philadelphia?" Because by then I had married my then-husband. My late husband lived in Philadelphia. He said, "Why don't you come on and hang out with me for a day?" I hung out with Paul Ylvisaker and was employed by the Philadelphia Council for Community Advancement, which was a Ford Foundation-funded project for city renewal. I mean, all of these — it's networks.

BOND: Yes, it is networks.

LEFTWICH: It's networks.

BOND: The University of Minnesota alumni network.

LEFTWICH: Yeah. That's right. He remembered that — you know, he remembered me from when he was there in the school.