Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Vision, Philosophy, and Style

BOND: Let me move on to some other questions. I want to mention three things -- vision, philosophy and style. How do these interact for you? Philosophy, vision and style?


WILLIAMS: Well, my philosophy is shaped by my virtues and my value system. My philosophy is basically shaped by my parents, you know, when I didn't even understand it. And as I've gone through life, I've come back to it. It's sort of like what the Bible says -- "Raise a child in a way that you want them to become and what you want them to be and even though they may go astray, they will always come back to it." It's absolutely based in morality and how you treat people and how you're loyal and honorable is my philosophy.


You know, I may rail against same sex marriages and abortion, but never underestimate my value of the human being, my value of understanding those tough decisions that people make and some things people are just born and things happen to people that we cannot always explain. It's easy to rail against the things in life, but, you know, I do care about people. I do care about the struggles that they have and even though I may speak out often against issues that sometime American blacks feel that I'm doing somebody else's bidding, I would be the first to speak out against bigotry and racism because it's not about black and white. I mean, it's about morality.


Racism to me is morality, is ugly, and I realize what it has done to this country and I also realize that in my philosophy, I'm not too foolish to understand that because I had a mother and a father, because I had parents that gave me four years of an education without any debt, I had a family who came to Washington and found me a place to live and paid for the first month's rent, I realize that that had given me a head start in life. It made it appreciate -- I did not have the substantial debt that a lot of kids have today so as much as I talk about the philosophy of pulling yourself up by the bootstrap, I understand that there is something in the legacy of slavery, not so much what people talk about but what we don't talk about enough about, and that is being able to pass along home ownership, wealth, but not only that, a sense of self-worth, a real sense of self-esteem, something of value that you can pass along to your children because if a parent can give their child a $30- or or $40,000 gift, that determines when they're buying a home, it makes the determination of whether you're going to buy a house in a neighborhood that has a good school system or you're going to have to go wherever you can afford, so I understand how money operates and influences the decisions of people.


And I also understand how that some people will say that the left is immoral, but you know what, I believe that the left is just as moral and just as God fearing as I am. They just come to a different interpretation than I do, but I would never minimize that some people say that they're anti-America or they're anti-God. I used to do that, though, but I got to know people like you and being on the set with you on America's Black Forum for seven years and I realized this person loves God. He may support same sex marriages, but that doesn't mean he has less belief in God than I do, and I realized I have to value and embrace and learn from that. I think the problem is sometimes we're unwilling to have the frictions of minds where people come together and have a real debate in how we grow each other and I'm always wanting to learn.


Philosophy also dictates that if I believe in something, if you are someone- It could be a child, elevate me to a higher truth. I'm willing to abandon that to go with the truth. The problem in America today is that some people have invested so much in what they believe that when they know the truth, they're unwilling to abandon it. I'm not that way.


In terms of my vision, my vision is what I want to become in life. You know, I just think there're three things that are very important in life -- something to love, something to look forward to, and something to do. I think those things are something that are very important-something to live, something to do and something to look forward to. My vision is this -- is that I believe that there is no entity in this world that can stop me from doing the things that I do, even if I may have had the experience of the racism and let me tell you. I've had obstacles in my life. I've had many obstacles. I've had many things that could've set back lesser men, but I believe that I'm good. I believe that I'm sincere. I don't articulate anything unless I believe it. I'm not out here fronting for no white man.


People talk about white people as if they're God. That means if they have all the answers to what ails you, that means they have all the solutions so you do. I mean, the way we talk about white people is a form of idolatry. They put on their pants just the way that I do. I can achieve whatever they achieve. No racism can ever keep me away. I don't get up in the morning thinking about racism. I have employees. I have to make a payroll. I have to write columns. I have a broadcast four hours every morning. I try to do things that could move me forward to build a better future for myself. That is my vision of what I can become in life and not necessarily about what I've already seen.


So, you asked about vision. You asked about philosophy --


BOND: Philosophy and style.


WILLIAMS: And style. My style, and I think it's the thing that really helps me -- I always, even with people who sometimes can be my staunchest enemy -- I always speak to people. I always find the good in people. I always try to engage people. I always try to have the style that I'm approachable, that I always like to have the style that I can engage in it, that people can walk up to me and say just about anything and they do it with respect, they do it with civility.


I also have a lot of pride in terms of my style. People know how I feel about smoking. They know how I feel about alcohol. It doesn't matter what you want to do, but my style is to always try to be an example. I want people to just listen to my rhetoric, my style. I want to be an example.


You know, the reason why I can write so well about the things that I write about, and I did say I write well, is because sometimes those are the things that I struggle with. My style is this -- just because I write about something that I struggle with does not mean that I don't understand what the mark is. We all should try to get to the truth. And so, I have a style that I always try to treat people fairly. I always --


I did very well in the marketplace. I've been very successful in the marketplace. I always try to help people realize the American dream. People always talk about, "You're not doing this for black people." I think we need to be involved with doing for people. My style is I don't care about race. I care about the conscience and the heart of an individual. I believe that when Hurricane Katrina came about and people got all worked up because there were so many black people, but my attitude -- if there'd been white people who'd been affected by Katrina, would blacks have reacted differently. We should react because of the human condition. No one should be left out of this equation.


We should not get outraged of the [James] Byrd dragging in Texas because he was black. We should get outraged because it was a human being. We should be outraged about these things, but if we say to the world that only we should be concerned about this because these are our issues, these are our people, then what you're doing you're short-circuiting and leaving out people who'll help you overcome these issues. So my style is that I don't care about your race but I care about your value system and you know what, we can have a conversation, we can have a discussion, but we can do it in a civil way. We can do it in a respectful way. So people find that I'm approachable.


My style is that I'm engaging, but I always want -- I think the hardest thing that we do every day which is our ultimate jihad is working on ourselves twenty-four hours a day. It's not running the businesses. It's not being on the air. It's not writing the commentary. The toughest work that I have to do every day is work on Armstrong Williams, twenty-four hours a day and what I find is that when I work on Armstrong Williams twenty-four hours a day, the corner of the world around me improves every day and that's sometimes what we forget about.


BOND: Now, what kind of work does Armstrong Williams need?


WILLIAMS: Oh, it needs a lot of work. You know, I always want to be honest with people. I don't want to play games. I don't want to say something what people want to hear. Sometimes we live in a society where you want to make people feel good and somebody will come to you and say, "I think I should go into this career." And you know the person should not pursue that career. You know they're going to fail miserably and then five or six years later the person comes back and so sometimes, you know, people ask you how you're doing. I don't want to say, "Oh, I'm doing okay." I want to say, "Well, you know, I'm struggling today. I'm doing the best I can to make it through this day." We live in a society where we always have to tell people that we're okay. And I'm just trying to improve and just be candid and also being comfortable with myself, just like the things you asked me.


You know, people know about the issues of No Child Left Behind. That's a part of my life. I don't want to run away from my life because it makes me who I am today. If people want to talk about it, it's fair game. It's who I am. I've made my mistakes. I've used bad judgment and guess what? If I keep living I'm going to do more of it. That's just the human condition, but it's not where you start out in life. It's not where you are knocked down in life. It's where you end up in life.