“Do We Still Need Black Leaders?” is the question Britni Danielle unpacked in Clutch Magazine this month. She mostly pulls from a more substantial article in the Washington Post by Kevin Powell, one of the new breed of “Black activists”. Powell writes in “Black Leadership is dead. Long Live Black Leadership“:
“This search for a national leader of the black community does a great disservice to the influential young African Americans who’ve done powerful activism, in some form, for a number of years. They hail from fields ranging from education (Dr. Zoe Spencer, Steve Jackson) to media (Melissa Harris Perry, Marc Lamont Hill) to technology (Malaney Hill, Tracey Cooper).”
The gist of both Powell’s and Danielle’s writings is that searching for a “de facto” Black leader to represent all Black concerns is futile. Leadership needs to come from a range of places in order to represent the myriad (and common) concerns faced by the varying economic, social, and political shades of the Black community. The very fact that we as a people continue to be trapped by this model means that true Black Leadership is either not recognized, or there are sectors of the community where a void is left.
While Powell’s bent and argument is decidedly left-leaning, I agree with the essence of his piece. I have long said that “Black Leaders” that are paraded in front of our face by the media and political class mostly represent themselves and their myopic point of view: whether they be an academic like Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, or a hack like Jesse Jackson. Powell makes an excellent point that the election of our first Black President, hailed with pomp, circumstance, and the supposed fulfillment of a “post-racial” America has led to dissatisfaction among the very Blacks that helped usher him into office. It is high time to chuck the model of some national voice or leader, and recognize the leadership that has already risen to address the specific faces and concerns of our communities.
And why does it always have to be about political or social activism? Back in the day it was about protecting and promoting strong Black families, communities, and supporting the education and spiritual growth of our people. The “activism” came into play by necessity–it wasn’t always the mode of operation. Activism is not all that Black Leadership entails, and often activism takes different shapes and forms. Hattie McDaniel and James Baldwin were as much activists as Sojourner Truth or A. Philip Randolph.
Merely thinking in terms of activism excludes a number of our leaders who are simply excellent at what they do, and give back to their people and the community in front of–and behind–the scenes. They lead with the fruit of their life and gifts, rather than the mounting of a soapbox. Both Powell and Danielle point out that behind the visible leadership of a Frederick Douglass or Dr. Martin Luther King were many other Black (and white) leaders and voices who partnered with these visionaries to see change come about.
My take? Stop looking for a leader, and be one.