Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Crisis in Black Leadership

BOND: Yes, I’m sure it does. In his book Race Matters, Cornel West writes, “The crisis of leadership is a symptom of black distance from a vibrant foundation of resistance. From a vital community bonded by ethical ideals and from a credible sense of political struggle." Now, do you see a crisis of leadership in black communities today, and if you do, what makes that happen, what contributes to it?

WILDER: I wish I knew the answer to that, and I have to confess to you that I do see — I wouldn’t, I don’t want to call it a crisis. It could very easily be, that when you and I were coming up, and I’m a little older than you are, but when you and I were coming up, there were things that were expected, that we had little choice in terms of the engagement. But we also knew that we had to set examples by being prepared. We’re not having that now. You know even in your class, you have students coming to you. But look at the opportunities that young people around me, the country, could say, “Dr. Bond, I want to talk to you about such and such thing. Help me, and tell me.” You might tell them, they'll say, "Thanks a lot," and they’ll go out and do whatever they’re going to do anyway. I don’t think a lot of our younger people — and some of them understand that there are no longer rewards for this. That it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not a popularity contest. But it’s a contribution to society as a whole, and to the extent that it benefits a racial element of that society is one thing, but the totality of society is what you’re talking about improving. And you make that commitment, you do it, and you try to inspire others so to do. That’s the way you go back to the community — to the barbershop, to the shoe shine parlor. That’s why you got to go back to your churches, and see what they did for us. Look how much of that is missing today. That’s the undergirding of those success stories that many of us are able to tell.

BOND: Yeah. But in the absence of that kind of forum — you mentioned the demise of the barbershop.


BOND: In the absence of that kind of community nurturing system, what can replace it?

WILDER: I don’t know. I had dinner with a lady last night — very highly respected person [from] one of the Fortune 500 Companies. And I was saying to her, “I would like very much for you to engage people similarly situated as you are to understand that there is a chasm. That we need to give the rebirth to our fraternities and our sororities. We need to bring back the opportunities they had for making certain that we were striving as a group, as a people, to make a contribution." And that’s not there. We got to do it at local levels. I know with your broad responsibility with the NAACP, you see it exactly what I’m talking about, how it varies from community to community. And now on the other hand, you see the need for each locality to divine its own purpose, to divine its own goals, as long as it’s positively acclimated. And to make certain that we don’t give up. Don’t stop, fight to the end to make certain that we improve the lot.