The legacy of racism and oppression in America has given birth to an insatiable need for leadership within the black community. Throughout black people’s time in North America (supposedly beginning in 1619) many leaders have emerged to contribute to the advancement of blacks.
During slavery, there was Frederick Douglass, known for his anti-slavery abolitionism and oratory skills. And Harriot Tubman, also an abolitionist, a Union Army scout during the civil war, and a women’s suffragist. There were also several revolts, such as the Southampton insurrection, led by preacher, Nat Turner, in 1831.
Post-Slavery Intellectual leaders
During reconstruction and the Jim Crow era, we had W.E.B Dubois and Marcus Garvey. Both were civil rights activists and Pan-Africanists. Although both were equality advocates for blacks, they had differing philosophies of what was necessary for economic and social empowerment in the black community (read this article on code switch for more info on the Dubois/Garvey beef).
Dubois applied an elitist approach, believing that African-Americans excelling in professional and educational industries would increase black political capital, and make it impossible for whites to deny the rightful place of blacks in society. Dubois believed that one of the biggest challenges for African-Americans attempting to advance as professionals would be managing “Double Consciousness.”
Marcus Garvey’s approach was more suited for the everyday black person. Garvey believed that black people will never get the respect that they deserve in the United States. Garvey proposed that blacks should return to Africa so they can live as majority members of society and perhaps have meaningful political power.
Telling it Like it is. . .
In the civil rights era is where black oratory leadership became exceedingly popular. Charismatic leaders like James Baldwin, Fred Hampton, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X began to garner national attention for their ability to eloquently shed light on the plight of black people in America.
Each of the above-mentioned leaders had an uncanny ability to tell the truth; a certain bravado, accompanied by intellect, that was unparalleled and spoke directly to the hearts and minds of Black people.
Although I believe that the contributions of leaders such as MLK and Malcolm X to black people are unmatched, speeches, marches, and protests seem to be the only idea of black leadership most black people understand nowadays. Therefore many African-Americans remain bound, thus stagnant, when it comes to taking action concerning the issues that ail the black community.
In previous eras, speeches and marches were what was needed. Why? Because it was a new, innovative way to effect change. It was what was necessary at that point in time. During that period, sit-ins and pointing out the hypocrisy of the white racial majority as well as the racist government via major media outlets were considered radical. But now, the impact of such strategies is marginal at best.
We Don’t Need any More Leaders
With all due respect to all leaders who have fought tooth and nail for the liberty of black people, we don’t need anymore Martin Luther King’s, Farrahkans, or Malcolm X’s. We don’t need any more thought leaders. What we need is for more people to step up in their families and their communities.
We need more teachers to emphasize to black children the importance of education in a world that’s negatively skewed against them. We need more coaches to mentor young athletes to show them that they can be successful in activities that don’t involve running or jumping; although that is a direct contradiction of a coach’s role–it is what we need. We also need more law enforcement officers who look like and understand the people in the communities they police.
We need more parents to become active in school board meetings to meaningfully influence the quality of their children’s education. We need more kids to be leaders in their classrooms by showing other kids that it’s okay to value education more than sports, rap, or social media. We also need more kids to learn trades and take an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
We don’t need to wait for the next leader to emerge. Leadership is within us all. Leadership on an individual level is what is required to see changes in the black community on a national level. If you want to see changes, start with your community. Better yet, start with your household.