Are we in our own way?

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Bernadette Turner

Bernadette Turner

Who’s taking responsibility for Black leadership? The days of the “lone leader” are behind us. That being said, is it time the African-American community challenge those decisions makers with influence? It’s really easy for our community to point fingers at “them” or those outside of our community. Without effort, we blame others and place the burden of failure on “them”. Granted, we are highly disadvantaged due to the mega power lying in the hands of a select few. We know that slavery, Jim Crow and racism did and do leave us lacking in many rights. But when do we take a good, hard look internally and ask, are we in our way?

There’s been an increasing buzz lately that the first Black President, Barack Obama does not have a Black agenda. From social media sites to community forums, people are asking the question…what’s President Obama doing for Black people? Why isn’t he standing tall and firm, pushing an agenda that specifically addresses the concerns of the Black community?

The other side of the argument says his positions are indirectly impacting concerns in the African-American community and he is in a delicate position as the first Black man in the most powerful seat in the world. He is, after all the President of America; a place not popular for its treatment or agenda for Black people. This is creating a healthy discussion on his leadership stance.

With that, people are saying, “Why aren’t we challenging his leadership?” Now, this in no way says we are to disregard, disrespect or defame him, his title, position, office or anything related to that. But it surely raises the question, “Are we not questioning his decisions and acts because he is a Black man?” Couldn’t this same sentiment ring true for Black leaders in general?

Black leaders often boast of having 30-40 years in their position or positions of leadership. Do we assess those records? Clearly, we can’t discount their amazing work and in no way would we or could we EVER erase their accomplishments; but if they’re responsible for the successes, who’s responsible for the failures? Too often we have our hands raised, jumping in our seats saying “ME, ME, ME!” when there are success attached. But we put on our shades and fade to the back, pointing to “them” when failures occur.

We are hungry for rejuvenation, rebuilding, a rebirth, if you will. Yet we stand on the sidelines allowing status quo to starve our appetite for success. Can we continue to move forward with the same people, ideas and cliques? We cowardly whisper, even giggling behind the backs of leaders, pointing out their inefficiencies and ineffectiveness; this opposed to directly, yet respectfully confronting them with our concerns.

Let’s not ever diminish or take for granted how difficult it is to be the one out front, taking the risks and shots. There is a peril to being a Black leader, wanting better for your people, with high expectations and little help. But that aside, who said we’re not permitted to question their current vitality, even saying you’re in the way. Is it off limits to propose sharing the leadership role….or move to the side-for the good of the order?

African-American leaders must collectively work on pooling our resources, continuously developing our leaders and talents, intentionally mentoring the next generation, building succession plans so the legacy is not disrupted, fighting for equality and assessing our internal structures.

There isn’t a profession, sector, company, business, etc. that doesn’t periodically assess who’s on the bus, who’s driving the bus and are we going in the right direction. It is to our detriment that we allow the same ole, same ole to occur (and in some cases get worse) and practically shun new people with new ideas. The words “we’re tired, where is the next generation” is often muttered, but when you get “that” call to make a move, those words are just that….words.

It would be optimal if we were embracing new leaders, new thoughts and new associations as they emerge like the African American Leadership Association, founded in Pittsburgh and coordinating Black leadership on all levels and sectors for the past three years. It should be our hope that we eliminate being caught up in titles and affiliations, allowing room for the “newness”. It should be natural to challenge the process and redefine our expectations of Black leaders. We must work closely, together, to identify our own leaders and not allow for appointed gatekeepers. Collectively, our leadership can influence and aid in repairing our communities in ways we have only imagined. We have too many critical issues and implications to NOT coordinate and work cooperatively, getting in our own way. Failure is not an option, but will be the reality if we don’t speak up regarding the status quo in Black leadership. There’s an old saying “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed”. If we remain silent, we’ll starve.

(Bernadette Turner is executive director of Addison Behavioral Care and Founder of the African American Leadership Association. Visit http://www.abcpgh.org and http://www.AALApgh.org for more information).

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