Explorations in Black Leadership

Co-Directed by Phyllis Leffler & Julian Bond

Contemporary Issues: Crisis of the Family, Materialism

BOND: Now, do you think there is a crisis in black communities today? Our mutual friend, Juan Williams, has written a book about a crisis in black leadership and he, I think, extends that to the communities these leaders spring from. Is there a crisis today and if there is, what contributes to it and is it more severe, less severe than in times past?


WILLIAMS: Well, in times past, you had laws on the books. You had less opportunity and you were subjected to so many other things. I think it would be very difficult to understand why certain communities have not reached a certain level of success and achievement. I don't believe it's a crisis in communities. I believe that it's a crisis in households. It goes back to something I said earlier. If you look at the Jewish communities, one of the things that hold them together -- it's not so much the money that they make -- is that they keep their families together. You will find very few Jewish households that don't have a father, very few that don't have Shabbat. You may call it Shabbat, but it's a way to get together with family members, to be in contact, to interact. They've kept their communities together. You look at any community in the world where you've kept the family and the household together, that community thrives.


The crisis is in the definition of the family and the fact that men are not in the household. If there were men in the households with their families and their wives and their children, I'm willing to bet you that 60 to 70 percent of the problems that we discussed today would go away, so it's not a crisis that black people have or the inner city or urban America may have. It's a crisis in family that would happen to any family if they had to deal with the issues where 70 percent of households don't have a father and about 52 percent of them have babies out of wedlock. When you have those kind of conditions in any community, you will have this kind of epidemic crisis.


BOND: But, still, these statistics you're quoting, these are statistics on black families or the absence of black families. These are not American statistics. These are black statistics.


WILLIAMS: But, my point is these statistics would be the same for any family with these kind of pathologies that we're speaking of.


BOND: But the statistics themselves suggest that it is black families that have these pathologies to a greater extent than do white families in America.


WILLIAMS: And you must ask yourself why is it that they make these choices. Why is that a father can bring a child in the world and feel no connection to that child? It's far deeper than something that money and studies can resolve, and especially when you look at families that keep their families together, keep their children together. You know, we like to focus on the families that don't have -- it's something that you've got to resolve yourself. The government can never resolve this problem. You can spend all the money. You can have all the debate, but in order to resolve this problem, it's something that has to be resolved in each individual family.


BOND: What kinds of leaders does contemporary society demand and how will future problems demand different kinds of leaders or will it?


WILLIAMS: Well, you know, I just don't -- I think that problems are basically the same. I just think they come in different shapes and different forms, but it's still the same problem. I think most problems are rooted in a lack of moral striving, greed, selfishness, disrespect for others, and people wanting to have dominion over others. I think what is consistent about leaders in the world is that people are willing to sacrifice for others. They're willing to share.


The thing about capitalism that people forget about, and it's a good thing that my father taught us growing up as young men and women, is that you cannot empower others without empowering yourself. It's never an issue for me to give and to share because I realize I'm going to get it back tenfold. It's why I go -- when I'm church on Sunday I pay my tithes. I pay my tithes even when I could not afford to pay my tithes because I always had this belief that whatever I give and I give sincerely, not because I'm expecting anything, I will get it back tenfold. People don't really believe that. People believe because they're struggling so at this moment they can't afford to give anything, and that is something -- that is misplaced values.


Even in Katrina, people who felt they had nothing, even if they only had five dollars, if they took a dollar and gave it to somebody who was worse off than them, in time, they would see that money tenfold. And I think what leadership has to show is that we have to get away from greed.


I did not understand the Enron debacle, how you could take someone's pension of people who worked for you for thirty years and just exploit them. You ask yourself, "Where does that come from?" And it's just not anything that I can relate to. I think that more than anything else -- I think we can deal with a lot of issues that we have no control over. There're things that are going to happen that it's fate, but I think in terms of people's behavior and the choices that they make --


I mean, you look at what they do in Islamic countries. I mean, they believe that we're the enemy because of their way of life, but much of their problem has to do with the way they run these fiefdoms, the way these kings and these sheiks live. They have all this money and all this money and the people starve. They starve them and yet they expect us to love them more than love them themselves. Look at the example they make, but yet they make Americans to be the scapegoat. It's not just in these countries. It's in this country, too. People have to get back to sharing and really taking time to build young men and women, even if you bring them in your company and it doesn't benefit you on the bottom line.


One of the things I'm proudest of is that in the history of Graham Williams Group, over fifteen years, we probably have had a hundred and fifty young men come through that really didn't add much to the bottom line, but we developed them into young men. We developed their work ethic. We helped them buy and own homes for the first time. We gave them a lease and we gave them something that money cannot buy --character, self-respect, and dignity and we stay in touch with them. We don't have time anymore. It's all about me, me, me. We want to do for ourselves. That's what leadership does because when you raise a young man up, especially when they've just expected to die by the time they're twenty-one years old and you make them to believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can become in life and how they can change their community because, see, look I can't save the world. All I can do is change the community where I am. And if everyone adopts that attitude, the world will change.