University History Profs. Julian Bond and Phyllis Leffler discussed the release of their new book and website “Black Leaders on Leadership” at the University Miller Center Wednesday. The project consists of a series of interviews with leaders in the African American community sharing their experiences.
The interviewees were all leaders who had a significant impact on the African American community.
“We chose people who distinguish themselves, who may not have been well known to the general public, but were know in their circles as leadership figures,” Bond said at a press conference. “We thought each of them had lessons to teach us.”
Bond and Leffler said that in their experience, they found many of the leaders they interviewed shared common characteristics.
“These are people with enormous determination, perseverance, courage, the ability to overcome adversity, and fight hard for what you want and to not give up the fight when the going gets tough” Leffler said. “These are all people who are community oriented, service oriented and saw that as an important goal of their leadership.”
Bond and Leffler said there was virtually no discernable difference between leaders in the African American community and leaders in any other community.
“There are people who think there’s divisiveness, but I don’t think we think so,” Bond said. “We’re really studying leadership of people who happen to be black.”
Bond and Leffler also said that often, younger generations take for granted the equal opportunities for success which exist outside race.
“I learned that a relatively large number of these men, not the women, were actually in the Boy Scouts,” Bond said. “I didn’t think of black people being in the Boy Scouts at all, and the fact that these leadership figures gave the Boy Scouts credit shows that one of the qualities of leadership is joining an organization that taught discipline and good behavior.”
Bond and Leffler’s project is unique in its inclusion of a digital feature in addition to the printed book.
“We wanted to do a website because it was the most effective way to create an archive of these materials that that could be used by the public,” Leffler said. “The 21st century technology and the use of digital tape gave us this opportunity to make them accessible to a much broader public than would ever have been able to see them before.”
Bond and Leffler said they hope the people they interviewed would inspire a younger generation of leaders.
“Interestingly, most of them said, ‘Oh, I’m not a leadership figure’,” Bond said. “But these are all leadership figures, and we learn so much from them and it comes out in this wonderful book.”