Sunday, April 09, 2006

What's Black Leadership???

We Are All Leaders
A Limelight Exclusive

By Byron Lee

Alfred King

Alfred King speaks with a righteous boisterousness that is not diluted one bit by a phone connection; he is also someone with a great deal of knowledge to share.

The 30 year teacher, currently teaching at Langston Middle School in the St. Louis Public School District, is one of the people we spoke to this month regarding the role of leadership in the black community. The respondances come from many walks of life and will provide answers that may surprise you.

Born to a midwife (and the youngest of five children), King, an East St. Louis native, grew up in immense poverty. After being recognized by his teachers as a bright student, he was granted permission to go on field trips. Little did he know how fateful one of his trips would be. “There were five of us, and we were chosen to go down to Atlanta as part of a rally.” That rally, held during King’s middle school years, was led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “He met with all of us, shaking our hands and kissing us on the forehead,” recalls King.

Although he had close contact with one of history’s most noted figures, the Harris Stowe graduate is quick to point out that Dr. King was not his hero. “Malcolm X took it to the next level. I would listen to him speak and my knees would buckle. He told other leaders, ‘Go on your marches, but don’t be abused, don’t be frightened in your own homes.’ He did a lot to bolster my vision for civil rights.’” He also says that he was inspired by the teachers who taught him during his youth. “The teachers took pride in their community and took pride in their students,” remembers King, “They were very aggressive against wrong doing in the civil rights movement, and they taught us that if you saw something wrong, it was your job to say that it was wrong.”

Since he had close contact with the leaders of our past, it is interesting to note who Mr. King feels could lead us in the future. “I’m waiting for Jackie Joyner-Kersee [one of King’s former students] to step up. She never forgets about home. Colin Powell could be a good leader.” King, a Vietnam Veteran, also believes that there may be one person who, although
not black, may be able to get our struggle heard by the world at large: William Jefferson Clinton. “An ex-president cannot be ignored by the media; he is respected by world leaders, and
most of all, black people will follow him. The primary reason that I would select him is the influence that he has with the international media. Bill would give us the international media.”

King, along with friend Janet Davis, gives free computers (paid for out of their own pockets) to his students and vows that he will keep fighting the good fight. “I will continue to teach children. Janet and I will continue to contribute to our community. We will not give up.”

Rebecca L. Rodgers

Someone who also shows a tireless drive to help people obtain their goals is Rebecca L. Rodgers. Despite having an extremely hectic schedule, Rodgers, 32, makes time to talk. As the Public Relations Volunteer Coordinator for Annie Malone Children and Family Service Center, she works with young girls directly to held build their self-esteem and get them ready for the outside world. As a teacher at Fontbonne University (in the Bachelors of Science in Sports and Entertainment Management program) and an instructor at the University of Phoenix, Rodgers works with adults who have just found their calling.

During our interview, Ms. Rodgers, who holds a Bachelor’s degree from University of Missouri-Columbia and a Master’s degree from Webster University, praises both national and local leaders, but she eloquently voices a concern for future leadership. “There are many national leaders, such as [Illinois Senator] Barack Obama, [Author\Commentator] Tavis Smiley, and Oprah Winfrey who have been there for us,” says Rodgers, a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. and a Youth Director at Lane Tabernacle, C.M.E. Church. Local leaders that she admires are Annie Malone C.E.O. Richard King, University of Missouri-Columbia Director of Community Relations Christine Winfield, and the work done by The Mathews-Dickey Boys' and Girls' Club.

Ms. Rodgers, who is preparing for the May 21st AnnieMalone May Day parade, does feel that both the national and local fronts share a problem: no investment in the future. “We need to make sure thatwe are grooming the next generation of leaders. Someof us have a Fist mentality: sometimes we want to keep what we have all to ourselves. We must have an open hand approach, where every one is willing to give what they have.” Rodgers also feels that our community is too stuck on trying to find one person to represent the needs of a large group. “Our community is very diverse. We need a person to fit each specific area:if technology is your area, serve in that way; if the arts is your area, serve in that way.” Lastly, she is worried that a fear of failure is keeping people from positively impacting the youth. “We can not be afraid to be creative. If you touch just one person’s life, then the community will benefit as a whole.”

Travis McAllister

Travis McAllister, 25, is someone who is working with mentors in an effort to better our community. The Tupelo, Mississippi native was inspired during his youth by the examples shown by his mother and grandmother. “She had a quiet, strong-will about her that I carried into my life,” says McAllister of his grandmother. “I would walk around with an extra boost of confidence and self-reliance to achieve a goal I set out to reach. Seeing me do well in school helped boost both her confidence in me and my confidence in myself.”

McAllister’s confidence, intelligence, and ingenuity led him to Washington University, where he served as Historian for the University’s Association of Black Students. He is now in his fourth year as Site Manager for the St. Louis University branch of Jump Start, a division of Americorp in which college students mentor preschoolers in low-income areas in an effort to improve their social, literary, and language skills.

The vast majority of the workers under McAllister are from outside of the African-American community. This fact provides McAllister with an opportunity in addition to his stated professional duties. “You are molding them and getting them ready for leadership. I am also trying to acclimate them to the culture, make them cognizant of the ways that they do things, and teach them how to go about certain situations in a more appropriate way.”

It seems as if the campus is taking notice. McAllister was recently honored with the Kathy W. Humphrey Award, named after the University’s beloved former vice president of Student Development. The award honors “service, scholarship, and leadership.” One more part of the award’s description seems very apropos with regard to McAllister: “It is not necessarily what this person does, but how this person thinks that makes them meritorious.” Says McAllister, “It feels good to know that they recognize the job that I do and how I carry myself while doing it.” Like any good leader, McAllister knows that he can always learn something new everyday. In speaking of the people he works with, he says that, “They are now 7 years younger than I am, and I am pulling from them and learning to be better.”

Kenneth Jamison

Also learning is 25-year old Kenneth Jamison. Jamison, who is currently in the midst of Graduate Studies in Sociology at Princeton University, feels that there are many different paths that leaders can pursue towards inspiring others. Jamison, a graduate of Hazelwood Central and Washington University, says that he was led to this way of thinking by his experiences in academia. While taking a class taught by renown scholar Dr. Cornel West and West’s protégé Eddie Glaude, he was treated to guest lectures from leaders from diverse fields: TV actress Phylicia Rashad, Literary legend Toni Morrison, and rapper/mogul Jay-Z. Particularly striking was his interaction with Morrison. “Here is this person who writes extraordinary text, and you see that she is a regular person like everyone else. It makes it seem that greatness is achievable.” “I think this generation can lead in their own way,” continues Jamison, who has lived in both Beijing and Taiwan. “We do not have to be on CNN every week, but as long as black intellectuals are dedicated to both our communities and our disciplines, perhaps we can inspire others to obtain their degrees.”

Chinyere Oteh

25-year-old artist/writer Chinyere Oteh, who works with a YWCA girls program, also sees a great need for both a new kind of leadership and an influx of mentors. “I would say that Black leaders need to find a way to harness the energy that youth have and turn it into community action. Instead of seeing a divide between generations and forging a wider gap by criticizing the actions and behavior of youth, elders must be willing to be sensitive to the current challenges that youth face in their homes, neighborhoods and schools, because they are a different set of challenges than existed a few decades ago.” “At the same time,” continues Oteh, who graduated from Washington University in 2002 with a degree in Social Thought and Analysis, “youth need to be taught to have respect for elders and the wisdom that they hold. Black leaders need to educate and mentor young Black youth. By leaders, I am referring to any Black person who is in the position to teach youth formally or informally. A one time conversation with a young person that challenges them to question the "reality" that they are often taught in history classes in school, for example, could be life changing.”

If these individuals are leading us into the future, the future is secure.

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