Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Influence of Civil Rights Community on Goals

BOND: In your legislative experience, you pursue these issues of poverty, of education, trying to take care or help people who cannot help themselves and I’m wondering, in addition to your parents, where does this concern come from? Where do these values come from?

SELLERS: Well, it has to start with my parents. There was no other direction I could’ve taken, but I used to go everywhere with my father. I would be on his leg, and you know, whether or not we were going somewhere to see you [Julian Bond] or whether or not we were hanging out with Reggie [Robinson] or even at Morehouse, they always used to tell me, they’d say, “Your uncle is here.” “My uncle?” They said, “Yeah, your uncle is sitting in your office.” I’d say, “My uncle?” And it would be Willie Ricks sitting in the office, and just growing up around these people — when I pick up the phone and it’s Kathleen Cleaver on the phone, a lot of people don’t have those experiences, so my network was a little bit more expansive and just, you know, Judy Richardson, being able to just walk up and hug her and there were just a lot of people from the former chairman of SNCC to SNCC activists and Rita Bender — great friends.

BOND: Mickey [Michael] Schwerner’s widow.

SELLERS: Yes, and these people, they are heroes and sheroes, and I get to touch them every day and talk to them every day — Connie [Constance] Curry, Bob Zellner, who is a fool, who I love — you know, you just learn so much from these people and it’s just an awesome experience that I’ve been blessed with and those people who gave up so much for social justice, who am I not to do those same type of things?

BOND: At the same time, among this community of SNCC people, many of whose names you’ve called, there’s one in particular whose experience is very different — very similar to that of your father and mine and these others — but whose children have turned out very differently and I’m not going to call his name, but he has two or three children and two or three have followed in his path, as you’ve followed in your father’s, and one has gone the opposite direction. And he is at a loss to explain why this happened, why these two went this way, these two went this way, so why did you go this way? It’s not given that because you have these parents, because they had these experiences, that you’re going to turn out this way.

SELLERS: Well, my sister, she’s found it later in her life. She is a internist and she’s made a lot of money in her career and she did the private practice thing and made goo-gobs of money, but she’s at home now at the Veterans Hospital and she loves it. She loves being able to sit and talk to veterans and talk about their lives and help them, so she’s kind of found that niche — a little bit later in life, but she’s found it. And my brother decided he was going to go into youth ministry, and that was a surprise to us all because he was the wildest one of the bunch, but he decided he was going to go in the youth ministry right after college, right after he graduated. He’s been a youth pastor for a very long period of time now, so he found it later in life. So as much as —

We’re bred on competition. We played Monopoly as a family, Scrabble and I never lost, and if I thought I was going to lose, I would flip the board over. But I wanted to be better than them and I wanted to be a better change agents than them and there was a lot going on and I really don’t think that I could’ve gone left and I don’t know where that comes from, but just deep down in my heart, I don’t think that there is anything else I could’ve done. I don’t think I could be an investment banker in New York. I don’t think I would be happy doing that.