Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Importance of Diverse Black Leaders

BOND: Now, do you think that it's divisive to focus on black leadership? We've talked earlier on about black leadership and black leaders, but is it divisive to focus on black leadership?




BOND: Why isn't it, to be race specific about a kind of a leadership?


WILLIAMS: Well, you have to understand. This is a legacy of our country. There was a time in our country where blacks had to have their own institutions of higher learning, their own churches, their own clubs, because they were not welcome and they found solace and strength and empowerment through this, whether it's Jack & Jill, whether it's a fraternity -- Phi Beta Sigma, Alpha Kappa Alpha -- they found strength there and this has been a driving force of what has sustained them in many of their communities. And so, if a society was willing to base laws and treatment strictly based on the fact that they were black and use it in such a very destructive way, why can't we focus on it and use it in a very positive way to raise up communities and still build that glue which held that community together for such a long time before the laws were in place to live out the ideas which were always in the Constitution that we all are created equal so, no, I don't think it's divisive. I think it's very healthy.


BOND: Well, since non-divisive, do black leaders have an obligation to help other African Americans? Is a person known as a black leader obligated to help black Americans?


WILLIAMS: What is interesting about that is that -- and I find this interesting, I find that as a fascinating question. I have many whites tell me, "Well, I can't do anything for the blacks, they're not going to listen to me, black people. They're not going to trust me, but, you know, I wish I could say this to them." So already built in this country, there're people who believe because of the hue of their skin, they cannot communicate with this audience, so if they're believing this, there is always a discomfort in even believing they can make a difference and because the problems in this community have reached epidemic levels --


It's no different than the Nation of Islam. I think the Nation of Islam does the best job when it deals with refining and restoring black men to respectability, real self-esteem, and real opportunity in America. If you've got something that works, you may consider it to be divisive. If it works, then it's a good thing. If it's uplifting and empowering your community, I'm all for it, and if that means that a black leader can walk into community because there're certain young blacks who distrust white people because of their history, because you cannot dismiss their distrust, because you have a history that has fed this for such a long time, but if it's you that can elevate them to a better way of life and improve their lot in life, I'm all for that. I would not knock it.


BOND: What do you see as your greatest contribution as an African American leader or maybe you haven't made it yet.


WILLIAMS: I haven't seen it yet.


BOND: Well, so far?


WILLIAMS: What I would say is, I --


BOND: Up to now.


WILLIAMS: If I could be so bold --


BOND: Be bold.


WILLIAMS: I actually believe and I've been told this, but I actually kind of believe it, that more than conservatives, especially black conservatives in this country, I think through my writings and being on the radio and doing commentary, being on places like BET Lead Story and America's Black Forum, I'm one of the first to have been given a forum for people to understand these different ideas and a different way of thinking, of black conservatives, and I think it has fueled the industry and given rise to other blacks who feel this way to come out, because oftentimes -- I get hundreds of letters of people who say you gave me the strength and the courage to believe in a value system. Some young girls write me, "You gave me the strength and courage to say that virginity is all right." I mean, I believe that God has blessed me in a way where through my participation in the media and in the marketplace to really fuel some of the legitimacy of this way of thinking.