Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership: Developing Future Leaders

BOND: Now, earlier today at lunch, a young woman asked you a question about youth and you answered in such a wonderful way. You said, in effect, that you have to earn leadership. Leadership isn't given to you. This is not a relay race where some older person says, "Here, young person, here's leadership, you take over." But it begins to push the question, how do we create leaders, young leaders? They seem to have in past years have come out of the civil rights struggle. That's my training and background. And I was critical of the older leadership of my time. But none of them handed me the leadership.

LEFTWICH: That's right.

BOND: You know, I had to grab it.

How do we rid young people of the notion that somebody's going to give them leadership?

LEFTWICH: I don't know how we rid them of the notion, but I think what we have to do is include them more, and I've really been fighting for this, including them in the day-to-day activities of leaders— of leading. It means having them be members of the board. Having them in the strategy sessions, giving them responsibility for some of the elements of the strategy. Calling on them when you're having a — putting together a panel so that they get to be in contact with —

There's nothing better than spending time in the company of somebody like Joe [Joseph] Lowery, who talks just out of the litany of his life experience in ways that you could never read. And hanging out with Dorothy Height, who makes it clear what the trajectory has been of both women and blacks in gaining equal rights and equal opportunity. And I think that making those opportunities available to younger leaders — I don't know what you do with people just out of high school. That's not my forte.

But I do know that the mentoring kind of camaraderie that you can certainly do easily. Inviting them to dinner, being part — I mean, it's all — it's all a matter of feeling comfortable in their skin and comfortable in all kinds of company. And I think that that can happen. I think we can do that. And I think that it's — what has happened is that there's just such competition now to hold onto the gains we've made that there sometime isn't the inclination to trust some of the leadership responsibilities to people who haven't had as much experience as we have.

But look at it this way — nobody lives forever, and tomorrow is not promised. And we either make people comfortable with this transition and give them the tools and the self-confidence and the courage, or we die and they pick up the mantle not knowing which is the collar and which is the tail. And having to find it out for themselves, which I think by far is the least desirable strategy. And if we could just begin as a group of leaders to see it that way I think there are a lot of leaders who have been politicians, and politicians always see their next primary competitor over their shoulders.

I think that in the interest of strengthening and maintaining the gains that have been made in the black community, we have to regenerate ourselves and we have to regenerate ourselves so that the people who are coming right behind us don't say, "Well, you know the civil rights leaders they just talk a lot." And they will know that that's not true. That doesn't— yeah, we talk a lot. We have a lot to say. But that's just the tip of that iceberg of experience, and they need to have this experience because I'll tell you, it is not fixed yet. And when you look at the budgetary discussions that are going on now and look at what's happening in Iraq, in our pre-emptive war with our young people dying, it clearly is not over yet, and you need people who have the courage of their convictions to stand up and say that and to be willing to do what you did, Julian. Every time you went out on a civil rights foray you could have been killed. That's what you know. But the options are really not all that great.