Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Crisis in Black Leadership

BOND: Now — but if we talk about black leadership, does that foster some kind of divisiveness? You're a black leader as opposed to a leader?

WATSON: I'm not just a black leader. Yes, and I think that when people realize what they're saying, they'll change the way they're describing it because I represent a third, a third, a third. A third of my district is black, a third of my district is Hispanic, and a third is white and others. And so I'm not a black leader. I am a leader in Congress or a Congresswoman who is considered a leader. I don't have any leadership positions here, but just saying I'm a black leader maybe confines me to only blacks, so I would prefer to be called Congressman Watson.

BOND: But it also suggests that you're only interested in black — in that third of your district that's black.

WATSON: Exactly. And I try to perform in such a way that I'm not confined to just the black community.

BOND: Do you think black communities in America today have a kind of crisis in leadership? We read over and over again about crises in leadership in America, particularly in black communities.

WATSON: I feel that at this point, this era, that we're missing the kind of leadership that we had a few decades ago. I think there is a need for new leadership to emerge, younger leadership. I think we really need to promote black males as leaders. There was a time that everybody would call certain names as our leaders. That time has gone. People are dying every day and behind them has to come new leaders. And I think we do have a void and we need to develop new voices and I would agree with you that we might have been remiss, but we have to identify those who are willing to sacrifice their privacy to be public people. You have to make a decision. You have to give up your personal life, your private life, and you can ask anybody who sits in Congress — you're away from your family, away from home during the week. Some of us go back every weekend to our districts and we're on the west coast. That means a five hour and fifteen minute flight twice a week. And you just by nature of where you're located neglecting — you're detached from your loved ones. That's a big sacrifice, but the person who calls him- or herself a leader has to be willing to make that kind of sacrifice and we just—we went through a period in the '80s of being selfish, you know, and it's "what I can gain myself." Well, what're you going to do for yours?"

BOND: I came over here on the subway from the House Chamber with two members of the House — two white members of the House, one from New York, one from Massachusetts — and they're relatively senior members and one of them was saying some years ago just after Bella Abzug left or before she came, perhaps, he said, "I knew all the members of the Black Caucus and I knew all the women in the Congress and I can't say that's true today." So we've had an explosion of leadership, so it's interesting to hear you say that we need a different kind of leadership or revert to another kind of leadership we had in the past even though the numbers are much larger.

WATSON: We have forty-three members now. I'm referring to a national voice that can speak for all of us, be you in elected office or not, and I think that we haven't developed new voices yet. We still depend on some of the older voices or the old voices —

BOND: Seasoned.

WATSON: More seasoned, yes, and I think we do need to start looking at a new crop. From Los Angeles, we developed Future PAC, which is a national PAC that raises money to develop new female leaders, public servants and so on.