by Shannon Williams
Within the space of a week, this country, and the Black community in particular, lost two giants: Benjamin Hooks and Dorothy Height.
Hooks, the longtime leader of the NAACP, led a remarkable life that was filled with history-making initiatives, overcoming obstacles and courageously advocating for equal rights and fair treatment.
I once read that Hooks’ motivation to fight for social justice derived from his days in the Army during World War II. He was responsible for guarding Italian prisoners of war; however, in an overt display of racism that was typical of time, the foreign prisoners were allowed to dine at “Whites only” restaurants while Hooks was prohibited from even entering the establishment.
To endure such discriminatory and insulting treatment could do one of two things to a person—make them go crazy or strengthen them. Fortunately for the United States, the latter was the case for Hooks.
Myself and other journalists owe Hooks a resounding “thank you,” because it was during his time as commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission that he addressed the lack of minority leadership in media. He tirelessly advocated and proposed new laws and as a result of his efforts, minority employment in the journalism industry grew from 3 percent to 15 percent during his tenure with the FCC.
Height wasn’t any less great.
Though she’s most known for her four decades of leadership of the National Council of Negro Women, her entire life was dedicated to advocating for the underserved and underrepresented; specifically children, women, and minorities in general. Often the only woman present during historic moments of the Civil Rights Movement, Height represented women in the highest regard. As a matter of fact, she was a feminist before the term became mainstream. For me, she’s benefitted the movement just as much as Betty Friedan.
Height’s activism was spurred years before she became a nationally recognized figure. While still a teenager, she often participated in marches urging the elimination of lynchings. She also worked to desegregate the armed forces and reform the criminal justice system.
To live a life filled with such challenging, triumphant and historic moments is simply amazing to me. I often think of how far we’ve come since Height was a teenager and her activism began, but I also remind myself of how far we’ve yet to go.
Seems like Height felt the same way.
In recent years, she expressed her disappointment of how the sense of pride and unity Blacks once felt by the historic March on Washington has since disappeared. She also felt that our people lacked the momentum to institute change and she was saddened that so many Black families are still not economically secure.
As I reflect on the great loss of two giants in our community, I couldn’t help but think of today’s leaders. I also wondered who possessed the skill set, passion and commitment to serve as effective leaders for our community. Actually, since I think we all can and should lead, perhaps the term “leaders” isn’t most appropriate. “Representatives” of the Black community would be more suitable. Nonetheless, my list was short.
Immediately names like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Dick Gregory came to mind, but I just as quickly shot them down. Respectfully, I believe Jackson and Sharpton aren’t as effective as they’d like to think. Many people are turned off by their “leadership” styles and some question their motives. While a committed advocate, Gregory is a bit too radical for a lot of Blacks and doesn’t have the overall platform that will appeal to the masses. Simply put, it’s a solid no for these three gentlemen.
Our greater community needs representatives who present themselves well…in a polished, professional and devoted manner. The two people I immediately thought of were NAACP President Benjamin Jealous and Bennett College for Women President Julianne Malveaux.
Jealous is young, energized and steadfast in his approach. Not only does he appeal to many different generations, but he also has the brains to back it up.
Malveaux is a good choice because she has demonstrated her expertise and commitment to empowering women and other minorities. She is evidence of someone who doesn’t simply talk the talk, but she also walks the walk. Over the years, I’ve appreciated Malveaux’s approach to looking at things from a 360-degree perspective—and then injecting her opinion. Too often people look at things from one angle, thus reaching ineffectual conclusions.
Regardless of who are our next representatives, one thing is certain: in order to lead, they also must serve.
(Reprinted from the Indianapolis Recorder.)