Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Connecting the Black Community

BOND: One thing that seems to be missing now as opposed to thirty, forty years ago is the ability to engage people who do not read The New York Times, who don't subscribe to the Progressive and who probably don't read Crisis, either. The '60s movement, which really is an aberration –


BOND: – if you go over the long twentieth century – but the '60s movement engaged people who weren't connected to these organs of influence who didn't, wouldn't have come to hear Cornel West speak. How do you connect these different parts of the black body politic: the middle class, the intellectual class, and this working class and even poorer class? How do you make these connections?

WILKINS: I would say that the best vehicle we have is the NAACP. It is imperfect. It is not as large as it ought to be. But it is the one nationwide vehicle where we have a high enough profile, so that its leaders – when its leaders speak, they often get national press attention. And if we can improve our internal conversations and communications with our branches so that there is cross-fertilization and people feel truly – not just at convention time, but all the time – that they're part of a national movement that is doing something that's real, I think that is our best chance. There is no other organization in the black community like it. And it's our jewel, really.

BOND: I obviously feel that way. But I also know from the past and from the present that not everybody is organizationally-minded. And no matter how good the NAACP gets, there are always going to be some people saying, "Well, not for me. Nothing wrong, but not for me."

WILKINS: Right. Right.

BOND: There has got to be some way to get those people doing something.

WILKINS: Well, obviously, I believe in education. Everything I've said to you about how I developed. And two of my three children are "cause people" and are able to do it because of education. One of my three children was learning disabled. He's had a terrific life in another field. And I think, you know, somebody criticized us recently about – criticized the NAACP about – not dealing with barber shop issues. One of the things that black people talk about in the barber shops all the time still is education. "These schools," "This school in my neighborhood – " I think that education and the criminal justice system are the two issues that are national issues that you can reach virtually everybody in the society. And I think that if you can't do it through us, you can do it through the churches. And I think the church is still what it has always been, our main social and religious institution. So, I think those two organizations are the best opportunities that we have to reach and rekindle.