Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Leadership as Problem Solving

BOND: Now, at some point in your life you've got to say, if not consciously at least subconsciously to yourself, "I'm a leader." You don't run for the School Board without thinking that you can lead the school system toward improving itself. When does that point come for you? Do you remember it?

WATSON: I didn't so much think of myself as a leader. I thought of myself as taking advantage of the opportunity that was out there. I've always been a problem solver, and I thought when I first contemplated running for the School Board, I said, you know, we take our orders from our principal, from the area superintendent, from the superintendent. Why not go where you can make the law and you could look at it in terms of its impact on children? So that's how I figured it out. I didn't so much start off to say, "I'm going to lead people," but I got in that position.

BOND: But at the same time you knew from your professional experience, you knew about the education system.

WATSON: Yes. Exactly.

BOND: You knew what happening in Los Angeles Public Schools, but it's a step from that to thinking you can change it.

WATSON: Well, I thought about how can we solve this problem and how could we do what was best for children? How do children learn? And so I could present -- I was on all the committees. In fact, I would chair them, and I made our Board meet out at schools so they could go into the communities. You know, we had the concept of neighborhood schools. Well, what's a neighborhood like? Why don't you visit that neighborhood and hold your meeting and let those parents come in? So these are the things, you see, problem-solving, working with the community, working with the parents and all. I could lead that way. I could lead them to the kinds of interactions they needed to have. In that way, I was a leader.