On this evening of Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday, my day of reflection and renewal of hope has been spent repeatedly mulling over thoughts about the current status of African-American leadership or lack thereof in America.
Martin Luther King Jr. was an unusual configuration of societal positions. Ironically, each of these positions standing alone and applied to most people are usually rather ordinary. He was a minister, the majority of whom despite maybe possessing outstanding oratory skills and/or doing great community service, do not rise to international fame. He was not a politician holding an elected office. The politician normally holds the megaphone in the bully pulpit. As careers go, the lion share of recognition in one’s profession typically comes only after a long and substantial effort that amasses a body of work. King’s career as a civil rights leader amassed such a body of work in approximately 13 years.
Of course, the answer as to why this preacher, private citizen, and civil rights activist became one of-if not the greatest-American to ever live is the obvious anointing of God upon his life.
So, I decided I would reflect upon the meaning of this Holiday by taking a kind of general inventory of African-American leadership in its current state in America. The purpose of this inventory is to not come across pompous or critical because there are so many people trying everyday to do great leadership work. Instead, it is a simple and positive assessment of our current state of leadership to perhaps spark dreams and further discussion on the achievement of increased effectiveness and better leadership in the days ahead.
After all, Dr. King was indeed a dreamer!
This inventory quickly reveals another type of current leadership model. African-American leadership is currently an amalgamation of differing roles played by different individuals.
Let’s start at the top, there is of course President Barack H. Obama at the pinnacle of African-American leadership. However, because of his position as President of the United States, his leadership by definition must be focused on what is best for all Americans. Unfortunately, until we truly reach a post racial society that is absent this vitriolic and politically polarized climate, these interests will often times be difficult or next to impossible to bring into harmony thanks to their political manipulation.
Also in the political realm, there are men like Duval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, and one of only four African-American governors in the history of the United States. There is also retired General Colin Powell, whose appeal to conservative Republicans bordered on the romantic during his military service to this Country. Both of these men, like our President, must lead quietly by example constrained by the rules of the game which they have chosen to play. Undoubtedly, the imagery of these quiet examples of leadership can be as far-reaching and penetrating as many other forms and types of leadership.
Our academicians, men like Reverend Michael Eric Dyson and Dr. Henry “Skip” Gates, are brilliant observers and scholars of our social, political, and economic evolution and structure. Their stirring renditions of history, politics, and economics are only challenged in excellence by their keen editorials which highlight the intricate paradox of African-American life. These are men of greatness and leaders in their own right.
We have social commentators and philanthropists like Tom Joyner, Michael Baisden, and Russ Parr who do wonderful work having developed syndicated radio formats to both entertain and challenge us daily to do better, be better, and know better.
There is the coach, the church deacon, the uncle, or neighbor, to name a few. These community leaders and activists are the lifeblood of African-American leadership, making a difference one person and one project at a time.
I suspect that if you were to get all of these leaders, male and female, politicians, academicians, social commentators, and community leaders into a room and poll them about what our leadership needs to do; they could develop consensus. The greater and more important question is who amongst them could mold or shape the consensus. Dr King said ” a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.”
We must begin to think collectively. This phenomena may perhaps begin with the emergence of a new individual African-American leader or a group of leaders who are capable of molding consensus for the betterment of African-Americans and for that matter all Americans. It will require hard questions and even more difficult thought.
So as I conclude my reflection on this great American holiday, I will leave you with the thoughts of Dr. King on thinking through the difficulties that we face:
“Rarely do we find men who are willing to engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.” Martin Luther King Jr.
I guess I have a dream today as well. My dream is that the next time I take this inventory of our African-American leadership; I will be able to inventory lots of people who have built consensus, are continuing to build consensus, and most importantly have molded or are molding consensus.
I hope that I will be able to take inventory of leadership that is engaged in hard, solid thinking to eradicate the very hard problems of poverty, fatherlessness, lack of education, and misguided values endemic to our community, just to name a few.
After all, isn’t it about time? Aren’t these the same problems that Martin Luther King Jr. died for some 43 years ago?
Read, learn, and share…..Have a Family Meeting!
C. Randolph Keller
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