Is Black America’s Leadership Divided?
Some African-Americans aren't seeing the value in the "great black leader" anymore.
Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Dred Scott, John Brown, Fredrick Douglass, Marcus Garvey, Medgar Evers, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. are just a few of the names of powerful black leaders that have been forever etched in America’s history. Through their leadership wars ended, slaves were freed, civil rights was born, integration became reality and freedom was not only possible, it was required. Since 1619 the African American community has always prided itself on its leaders. Leaders within the black church and organizations like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and NAACP have all played a part in not only the rights of the African-American community, but also the worlds.
However, in recent years many have complained that black leadership is no more due to the changing times. With an African-American first family, black students graduating from high school and college at increasingly high rates and more opportunities than ever before, the need for a modern day Martin or Malcolm is questionable to some.
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“It's not so much that black leadership is dead, as that our standard notion of it is no longer useful,” activist Kevin Powell wrote in an article for the Washington Post regarding black leadership in America. “It may look as though Black America has fallen into a terrible rut around our leadership today, but that’s in part because a faulty image -- that of the singularly powerful national black leader -- has been perpetuated out of the upheavals of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet Dr. King was never the lone leader of Black America in his day. There was Fannie Lou Hamer, Dorothy Height, Malcolm X, Ella Baker and a wide range of women and men of various ages and backgrounds.”
Although African Americans may not have the visible leaders as we did in past generations, some say black leadership is alive and well despite the constant scrutiny. “Black leadership is not dead, I believe that it has changed,” says Ray Baker, host of Real Talk With Ray Baker on Sirius XM told Loop 21. “There is now a fragmentation of leadership in the black community because of several different interests involving black America. We’re different across all sectors when it comes to nationalism, racism, symbolism, the economy, and entertainment. You also have to take into account that although we’re not struggling as much as we did before with interpersonal racism, we still have institutional racism, which is why it’s so important that we continue to have black leaders.”
Names like Tyler Perry, Cory Booker and Governor Deval Patrick, among others, may not hold the iconic weight of black trailblazers in past years, but they’re each known in the national media as black leaders in their own right. Still, not everyone agrees that this new crop of black leaders measures up to those of the past.
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“I would not say Black Leadership is dead but it is dormant, lacks cohesion and needs a new focus than that of the past,” says Sean Breeze, a politics and pop culture contributor at A Good Supply. After the assassination of our two most significant and dynamic leaders in Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, we have not been able find leaders to define a collective agenda for black people. A large part of the reason we have been able to create a collective agenda for black people is our leaders and the agenda has not changed in response to the changing racial landscape for black Americans. After the victories against blatant overt racism that were won in the Civil Rights movement. Black leadership has been unable to adjust to the new issues that have faced the Black Community in the next 50 years that followed the movement.”
African American history and experts alike point out that while mass movements and legendary figures are not at the forefront of the present day black community, there’s still a united front on large scale issues such as Jena 6, the outcry for wrong doing in Hurricane Katrina, the shooting of Sean Bell, the country wide protest of the death penalty for Troy Davis and the election of the nations first Black President, Barack Obama.
“People have to remember that leaders like King and Evers were fighting for basic human rights, which played a large part in African Americans being a united front from slavery through the civil rights era.” Baker told Loop 21. “Now that we have freedom, choices and more opportunities than generations before us, we must re-define our goals and then we can collectively decide on appropriate leaders to achieve those goals.”