Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Vision: Education and Health Care

BOND: Do you have a vision that guides your work? And if you do, has it changed over time? And if it has, why did it change? First, do you have vision?

SELLERS: I do have a vision and that guides my work and it has changed over time. When I first got to Morehouse and started reading and learning — and I oftentimes caution my generation and just talking to some students here at the University of Virginia — I caution them about being too scholarly and not associating that scholarship with reality, and I had a crash course with that. I was in Raleigh at Shaw University at the last SNCC gathering and I was on this huge Jonathan [John] McWhorter kick — you know, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps, the victimology, the anti-victimologists, and all of that stuff, and I was on this huge Jonathan [John] McWhorter kick. And I literally got destroyed in an open debate, in forum, by former SNCC workers and by volunteers and things like that, so I had to go back and reevaluate my vision and see if that was really where I wanted to go and learn a lot, and then I had the opportunities to work for Congressman Clyburn and work for Shirley Franklin and go out and actually touch people and so when I read the Washington Post and when I read The Wall Street Journal and when I watch CNN and when I watch The O’Reilly Factor, I’m able to put that into a context which has shaped my vision, which has changed, and not drastically, but which has changed as I’ve gotten older and my vision currently now is a vision that Jesse, Jr., and I have in common.

BOND: And Jesse, Jr., is?

SELLERS: Jesse Jackson, Jr., and I read his book and it’s synonymous and it’s amazing that I’ve gotten there and he got there, but it’s two fundamental principles — everyone should have access to a first-class education and everyone should have access to quality health care. And he has a huge book that’s pretty thick, and that was the synopsis, and that’s what I got from it and that’s where I am.

BOND: You said it has changed over time, but do you mean the change from being a McWhorter follower to rejecting that and adopting something else, or something more subtle than that?

SELLERS: It’s not a rejection but it’s an understanding that every — all scholarly material is not truth in your particular community. And that’s helped me in understanding a lot of different things. For example, the voucher debate — understanding that when Howard Fuller calls you and talks to you about vouchers and what they’ve done for African Americans in Milwaukee and you talk to Cory Booker or Adrian Fenty about — and you read their works about voucher systems in D.C. and Newark, respectively, you’re able to not jump on the bandwagon of what’s cool in scholarship today but you’re able to put that in context and understand why that may not work for your community.