Who's a Leader?


by Kimberley Wilson

A New Visions Commentary paper published November 1998 by The National Center
for Public Policy Research, 501 Capitol Court, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002,
202/543-4110, Fax (202) 543-5975, E-Mail [email protected], Web
http://www.nationalcenter.org. Reprints permitted provided source
is credited.


It has been said that there is a crisis in black leadership. I agree. But as a black woman, more and more, I find myself questioning the term "black leader."

Who really is a black leader? Is it Al Sharpton at his most outrageous? Is it Khalid Abdul Muhammad when he's spewing hateful insults at Jews and other races? Or is it Kweisi Mfume at his most extravagant? Is the rapper/actor Ice-T or Sister Souljah a leader? Was the late, wildly-talented and charismatic Tupac Shakur a leader?

Frankly, I believe that many black public figures are simply crowned as leaders by a clueless press. The public figure may not have anything of substance to say, but if he or she says it loud enough... voila! The press discovers and anoints a new leader. In the midst of all this, and after some pondering, I've developed some personal criteria for deciding whom I will dignify with the title of leader:

If you have no real black community ties and derive your position largely from whites, then you are not my leader.

If you publicly curse the white man for all he has done yet you yourself have no inkling of what you are going to do, then you are not my leader.

If your wealth - or at least your comfortable living standard - is based almost entirely on how much money you can extract from the government in the form of social programs, then you are not my leader.

If you claim to know the heart and soul of all black America yet cross the street to avoid speaking to the working-class black man, then you are not my leader.

If you make speeches portraying black America as poor, down-and-out and in need of welfare and other handouts, then you are not my leader.

If you willfully break the laws of God and man yet blame whites when you finally get caught, then you are not my leader.

If you haven't been involved in the black community for years yet call on us for help when you get in trouble, then you are not my leader.

If you started out as a minister yet spend more time at city hall or preening for the cameras than teaching the word of God, then you are not my leader.

If you fight to prevent black children from getting a decent education by any means necessary - whether it be vouchers or otherwise - but send your kids to private schools, then you are not my leader.

Real leadership and showmanship are two different things. Some so-called leaders are really nothing more than entertainers. They give us a shuck-and-jive show, but offer little concrete substance or solutions. For some time now, many in the black community have been pointing out that much of today's black leadership has lost touch with the people that they are supposed to represent.

Slowly but surely, ordinary folks have begun to say the same. What was once murmured in private is now being heard in public. It's time for some new faces and fresh ideas. It's time for genuine leadership, not showboating. It's time for constructive and reasoned thought, not finger-pointing and emotionalism.

But most of all it's time for our leaders to do just that - lead or get ready to retire back into private life. Black America is waiting. We need and deserve a change.

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(Kimberley Wilson is a writer and a member of the African-American leadership network Project 21.)



Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.


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