Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Personal Responsibility versus Social Nets

BOND: Do you see a crisis in black leadership in communities today?


BOND: What is the crisis?

WILLIAMS: Well, I mean, as you deal with my whole issues here, you know, I mean, I think that we need to — our leadership has to be more inwardly directly as opposed to just outwardly directed. And I think that — my own view, I think that — he hasn't really expounded on this or elaborated on this, but I think a lot of what — I think you could take exception to individual things that Bill Cosby said and how he said it, but the general drift of how we need to take more responsibility in our own families and communities, I think is sound. That's my own view.

BOND: Why do you think it raised such a furor, became such a matter of controversy and debate? Was it solely the way in which he said it? Or was it that people reacted as if he were talking about family secrets?

WILLIAMS: Because I think that, you know, in our history and tradition you've had some advocates who have said, "We need more personal responsibility, we don't need all these government programs, we don't need any government intervention, we don't need any social net, we don't need any remedial or affirmative action of any sort. All we need is self-responsibility." And you've got people on the other end. Maybe it should be over here. You've got people on the other hand saying, you know, "Everything that's a problem is a problem because of white America and the history of oppression and — " you've heard all these things " — and the government." I'm one of these people who's kind of in the middle. The government clearly has a role and the government clearly has — still has a need, dire need to intervene. Hello, look at Hurricane Katrina, you know.

I mean, but at the same time, we need to talk to our own people. In my city and the incidence of AIDS, HIV/AIDS — and part of this is me because I've really not — and I'm saying this, easy for me to say talking to you — I've not really engaged them directly, but the faith leadership — we have to be much more open and expressive about the whole incidence of HIV/AIDS in our community and what it means and why it's here and it's not just — first of all, it's not just sweeping gay sex under the carpet, although there's a big, big part of that. It's also just ignoring the issues of heterosexual sexual activity. That's an example in my mind, you know.