Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Expanding Horizons: Involvement with American Israel Public Affairs Committee

BOND: Let me ask you something about your engagement with AIPAC, not so much what it does and is, but — well, tell us what it is and how you became involved in it and what this has meant to your development as a leader.

SELLERS: Well, I got a phone call the summer after I got elected, the summer of 2004, inviting me to a policy conference where there were —

BOND: The summer you got elected —

SELLERS: To the SGA presidency.

BOND: At Morehouse.

SELLERS: The summer of 2004, inviting me to their national policy conference and they were inviting SGA presidents and they were reaching out to HBCU presidents. And they invited four HBCU presidents, but the only ones that responded were myself from Morehouse College and Adeola Adejobi who was the SGA president at Spelman and we went and the only other African American SGA president was from the University of Florida. I can’t recall his name. But it might have been ten black people at the whole conference of 7,500 and I remember one moment that they had the roll call, but I was just so enthralled that we went to this huge dinner that they have and every member of Congress, or at least 75 percent of them, were there and I got to see Steny Hoyer again who has the best hair in Congress and, you know, I got a chance to see Condoleezza Rice and see George Bush. And the unique thing is they had this huge role call where they notified and they let the crowd know who was there and they let them know the SGA presidents they had there, but they left out the only two HBCU presidents they had. I didn’t even recognize it, but afterwards, the staff, the executive direction of this huge organization, came and apologized and said, “We’ll make it up to you.” And I was like, “You know, don’t worry about, I don’t care.”

So the next morning we’re sitting in a huge forum waiting on the president, at that time, George Bush, to speak, and after they introduced the president, they had a pause and they said, “We would also like to recognize” — as President Bush stand and wait — “We would like to recognize the SGA president from Morehouse College and Spelman College, Bakari Sellers and Adeola Adejobi. May they please stand.” So that attention to detail and we made President Bush wait even just for that moment. It meant a great deal.

But from the 50,000-foot view, it’s expanded my world horizons and I challenge them on issues. I challenge them on issues dealing with Palestine and the way that they treat the Palestinian government and the way — and their aggressiveness towards the Palestinian government. And I say that there are — and their aggressiveness as they move forward or refuse to move back in terms of some of their settlements and things of that nature, so we do challenge each other and we do have great discussions. But I also go back and I think that the Jewish community was there most times, many times, hand-in-hand with the African American community during the civil rights movement, and that’s very interesting to me.

And for me, my role in AIPAC is one of a learning experience. And every time that I interact with a staff member or every time I interact at a convention, I try to learn as much as possible, so that’s pretty much the extent of my dealings with AIPAC, but it’s been interesting. And I love when I’m able to challenge them and they’re able to provide me with opportunities to learn.