Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Purposeful Leadership

BOND: In his book, Race Matters, Cornel West writes, “The crisis of leadership is a symptom of black distance from a vibrant tradition of resistance, from a vital community bonded by ethical ideals and from a credible sense of political struggle.” Do you see a crisis in leadership in black communities? Today, earlier, you talked about your disappointment at the quality of people in public office but in the larger community, in addition to public office, if this is so, what is the reason for this?

SELLERS: It’s a disconnect from struggle, from struggle that’s not that far away. It’s a disconnect from reality and you find that in some of our state and local NAACP chapters. You find that in our black churches. You find that in our African American leadership. You find political leadership. You find a disconnect from what got us this far. I mean, I was reading a Washington Post Magazine. I think they do a little magazine, maybe on the weekends. It was a while ago. It was when I was working on Capitol Hill when Condoleezza Rice said that she would’ve still been where she is regardless of the civil rights movement. And you have persons who just may not know of the intricacies of the civil rights movement. You may have people who just know of Malcolm, Martin, and Rosa, and that’s unfortunate.

BOND: What is it about the current crop of black elected officials that displeased you?

SELLERS: I expected us all to have this undying sense of purpose, this energy to create change. What I found, that that sense of purpose was replaced by apathy. We have people who don’t speak out or up for anything. We have people that don’t file any legislation if you paid them to. We have people who just show up and sit, and I think they’re doing a disservice to their constituents, no matter be they white for their constituents, whether or not their constituency is predominantly white or black. I think they’re doing a disservice because I think they have to represent very well so that there can be another African American after them to sit in that same seat.

BOND: Couldn’t they argue with you that one of the hopes of the civil rights movement was that even mediocre people could have their chance in the sun?

SELLERS: Well, maybe this goes back to Morehouse, but I don’t believe in mediocrity.

BOND: Yeah.