“Family talk.” That’s what Carl Kenney, pastor of Orange Grove Baptist Church in Durham calls the discussions that go on all the time around dinner tables, at the water cooler, on the front porch or in church in African-American communities across the Triangle.
These days, rapid changes taking place in those communities have focused that talk around an overarching issue–leadership. Among the questions people are asking themselves: Where will the next generation of African-American leaders come from? Will they get support from existing leadership or have to struggle to be heard? What pressing concerns are they speaking up about–or leaving unaddressed?
It’s a vital, contentious, urgent conversation. But few of us ever get to hear it. As Kenney says, “When we get together as black people, we often talk about things in a way that’s hidden from the majority.”
In this year’s Black Culture issue, we asked a group of African-American leaders to let us in on the ongoing dialogue. Our moderator was Kenney, a perceptive and outspoken voice for black progressives in Durham. Joining him around a conference table at North Carolina Central University was a group of activists covering a spectrum of ages, geographic locations and experiences (see below).
Once they started talking, it became clear that the really important question is not where the next wave of black leaders will emerge, but how African Americans can step up right now on critical, overlooked concerns in their communities. It’s a bottom-up challenge, not a top-down one, as panelist Brandi Williams of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Sonya Haynes Stone Black Cultural Center notes. “Our job needs to be to educate people to what’s going on,” she says. “Why are we as a community so reactionary and not more proactive?” Or, as southeast Raleigh activist Olivia Rainey puts it: “It’s not about keeping peace. It’s about doing what’s right and moving forward.”
The range of problems facing local leaders is daunting: upheaval at Durham’s Hillside High; busing in Wake County schools; court battles over political districts; racial profiling at airports and on highways; demolition of public housing; slashing and burning of social services; big-box developments in the suburbs and no jobs in the inner cities.
On top of that, long-simmering battles between established leaders and new voices are chipping away at the passions required to turn the struggle outward and direct it with laser-beam strength at persistent inequalities. “What happens,” Kenney asks, “when you’re out there kicking down the doors and door after door is being slammed in your face, and many of the doors that are being slammed in your face are coming from your own people?”
What follows is an edited transcript of the answers to that question–and more–from our roundtable. The conversation proved once again that African Americans don’t speak with a monolithic voice, but instead, express a lively range of tones and pitches. And it made clear that there’s a group of riled-up people out there in the Triangle, hungry for change.
Give a listen.
Carl Kenney: This conversation is going to be an open conversation about how we perceive leadership–specifically how we look at progressive leadership. So let’s begin with a question that everyone can answer: What is your vision for young, black progressive leadership? We’ll start with Octavia.
Octavia Rainey: Well, for the progressive leadership, I think it’s very important that they understand policy. So many times we have leadership, but they don’t understand the policy piece of it, and that truly concerns me because you end up doing the same thing you always do and nothing ever changes.
KENNEY: When you say they, who are they?
RAINEY: I’m talking about when you look at the leadership today and if you ask the question, “Why aren’t we looking at this policy piece different than we did 15 years ago?” what they tell you is, “Well, you can’t do nothing about that. You can’t change. You don’t want to stir the waters. We want to keep peace.” But to me, it’s not about keeping peace. It’s about doing what is right and moving forward. It’s the established black leadership who doesn’t want to look at serious change.
Derek Jennings: The established leadership has been a problem for decades in terms of folks fighting or they paid their dues or whatever to get to a certain status or position in life, and then it becomes more about maintaining that position than it is about cultivating their successors.
And so, one of the critical issues I see in terms of future progressive black leadership, or leadership of any kind, is what type of outreach are you doing? What type of development are you doing to identify children at a young age? Or even more so, tapping any specific person and saying, “Hey, Kian, I noticed you got a little a position in that student government. I want you to be one of the leaders.”
Kian Brown: I think that for the new, young black leadership, like myself, they need to be willing to be a mentee to already established leaders. Like you said, we don’t want to repeat what we’re doing. So, in order for us to move forward and do it rapidly, we need to have a mentorship type thing where you can learn exactly what type of things that your public wants to change.
olufunke moses: I think it’s a matter of getting young black people excited about issues that directly affect them. I went to the University of North Carolina [at Chapel Hill] and I went at the time when the movement for the Black Cultural Center was just starting. And so, we did a lot of the sit-ins, a lot of the protests, bringing speakers down. We did a whole lot of work around that. I left school for about two years. When I came back, it was amazing. The students who were on campus then, I remember thinking to myself, “They’re so apathetic. They don’t get excited about anything.”
KENNEY: So, how do you get this generation of young people excited?
MOSES: I think that they have to become leaders instead of followers. You know, a lot of young people these days are following trends, whether it’s fashion trends or media trends or music trends. And I think that it needs to be a sense of family established, and there’s needs to be a sense of pride about culture, and about who you are in this world. One thing that I was doing when I was at UNC, not only was I taking classes, but I was reeducating myself. I would go up to the library and I would read something different about my history or other people’s history. I don’t think a lot of young people do that type of work anymore.
Norman Camp: My vision for young black leadership is grounded in the notion that we need to develop new voices in our community that are bold, aggressive, thoughtful and intelligent–and have a sense of civic responsibility that I see absent right now in the group of youngsters that we are preparing for the future. We got to think about a goal-based, civically-educated and intelligent cadre of young leaders. And we don’t see this happening.
Barbara Best: A lot of young people don’t really know who they are. If you talk to them, they don’t know a lot about their black history–realizing how rich our history is. I talk to my children and my grandchildren, and I tell them about the struggle that I had coming up in the 1940’s and 50’s, but they cannot relate to this. And I think that the people we have in our leadership now, they have come to the place where they’re just comfortable. They talk all the time. But they’re not doing anything. And I would like to see some action.
Brandi Williams: I don’t see a lot of young black people taking a stand for issues, making demands and not requests. You spoke about the history, and looking at the history. I think a lot of us fail to go back and look at where we come from–not only here in America but across the African Diaspora. Looking at the struggles of the people in Haiti and how they got their freedom not by an Emancipation Proclamation, but by revolution and taking a stand–a radical stand. And I don’t think that any of us are at that point, you know, where we’re ready to do that.
KENNEY: What happens when you’re out there, you’re kicking down the doors, and you’re trying to open the doors, and door after door is being slammed in your face, and many of the doors that are being slammed in your face are coming from your own people? What happens to your passion when that happens time after time after time?
RAINEY: That has happened to me a great deal, but I just don’t believe in giving up. I just don’t believe in the word “no.”
KENNEY: So, how do you keep going? Where is that passion coming from?
RAINEY: I’ve talked to a lot of young people and they tell me, “Well, Ms. Rainey, I couldn’t do what you do because it’s not even worth it. It’s just not worth it.” And you know what I tell them? “Yes, it is. If this is what you believe in, and you truly believe in it, you have to keep fighting.” Because slavery was all about that. You had some of us that was in the big house and some of us that was out in the field.
So, you have to keep fighting. You have to fight for what you believe in and don’t ever let anyone take that fight from you.
CAMP: Our folk now are not living particularly in black communities or black ghettos. Some are, but as we are educated, we move out, we’re living amongst other people. We live in fine developments, complexes that we can now afford because we are educated and well employed. The thing that we have to do is to somehow arrive at the point where these folk realize that they have a civic responsibility–not just to themselves, but to all the rest of us in a holistic way. We’re going to have to raise up a group of youngsters that understand civic responsibility, and that’s through civic education and through some experiential experiences such as service learning–using community service to get kids out of the classroom and into the community solving problems.
MOSES: I think it’s important to get people who are well-established involved but I think, too, that it’s very important to get the people who are not necessarily as well off to be really the heart of it. You know, you still have people talking about, “Yeah, the man’s keeping me down. I can’t do this ’cause the man and they’ve taken this away from me and that away from me.” A lot of times, black people become the man. We’re the people in our own communities who are stepping on each other. If somebody rises too high, it’s, “Uh-oh. What, she thinks she’s this and that? Uh-oh, he’s got a degree, now he thinks this of himself: I think that that’s a huge problem in black communities. It’s like, if we can’t see ourselves as brothers and sisters within our own communities or within our own structures, then it’s really hard for us to say we’re going to look at this one person as a leader. I think the people who are in the communities need to be the root of it, and they need to have a sense of self and a sense of self-worth and a sense of connectedness.
WILLIAMS: I just recently moved back to the area from Charlotte. And there, I was involved in leadership classes with Focus on Leadership. It was basically coming around to do what we’re talking about now, to develop young progressive black leadership in the city. And so I’m thinking that there needs to be something here that will do that. Since I’ve been here, I haven’t had anyone say to me, “I see something in you.” They haven’t said, “Let me get you here where I am. Let me show where I’ve been, and let me show you how to be in my place.” And one of the key points of Focus on Leadership was to make sure that we didn’t have just well-established African Americans, college educated. You know, we had the neighborhood leaders, association leaders and taking people that were on the street, the drug dealers. Because they do, they have concerns. They just don’t know exactly where or how to positively impact the community with what they know.
BROWN: Loss of passion, I think it comes from things that have gone on in our areas and in our nation. Sept. 11, we have war, we get rejection from jobs and from our peers, we have bills, schooling, lack of mentorship and encouragement. That all would cause loss of passion for what we want to do.
JENNINGS: Just going back and touching on what Brandi was talking about, it’s crucial that we don’t become elitist in any sense of the word. Like there’s this cat on the Internet now talking about they want like a black social register. And he’s dead serious. I thought it was a parody, but you have to have X amount of money, your family has to have been this and that for several generations. We recognize that as an elite and something that’s counterproductive. But even progressives, we have to be careful not to cast off an image of blacker than thou or more down than y’all or more real than you, because that is something that will turn people off. Like Brandi was saying, it’s very important that we don’t just target one particular type of kid, wait till they’ve already shown some leadership traits and say, “Hey, let’s do this.” We need to be saying that we’ve got the expectation of everybody that you’re going to be a leader and that everybody’s skills and gifts are different–basically finding a spot for everybody.
KENNEY: Let’s talk a little bit about vision. Has the vision for leadership shifted? Is the problem that we have too many different visions out there in the community?
CAMP: A vision gets passed on from those that proceeded us. So I would say the answer to that is “no.” I think we have consensus about that around this table. I think the number one resource that we have in our community is education. And when I came around this was the thing. But how do you get good leadership out of a cadre that exists in a highly technological society, a highly educated society, that is not educated? This is one of the problems that we have to attack and provide the kind of resources to bring about this change. Education is nothing but a change in behavior. Let us be about a change in behavior in our communities.
KENNEY: But I would argue that the young black progressive leadership, we’re thinking that maybe we need to focus on more than the education issue.
RAINEY: What I see with a lot of the kids is that as a leadership, we have not been aggressive enough in order to help our kids. When our kids complain about an issue, we don’t listen to our kids.
We always tell them that you need to study a little harder. We don’t take time to really listen to what is the issue.For example, in my neighborhood, the kids are bused way out to Leesville Road to go to school. And if they miss the bus one way it’s $27.50 for you to send your kid to school. So why are we busing our kids way out into areas that if you ask the kids, they aren’t happy? There is no contact with the school back in the neighborhood. I think that if we’re going to talk about this, we need to put our cards on the table and ask, “Where have our leadership been?”
CAMP: Good point.
WILLIAMS: We talk about education–I have an education. I graduated from college and my husband did as well, and we’re still struggling. We talk about education like it’s the cure to the black community’s problems and it’s not. I’m not saying that you don’t need to be educated. But I am saying don’t talk about education like it’s the cure to every problem that we have.
JENNINGS: Education is a tool. It’s not a goal. We can go out here and get all types of masters and PhD’s but if we’re not applying it to something, it’s not going to do anything for us politically, socially, economically. You can’t just tell the kids, “Hey, you need to get an education.” You need to get an education so that you can do–what? What is it for?
KENNEY: Let’s talk something very specific. In Durham we have the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People. Its leader is Lavonia Allison. The primary issue for Lavonia over the years has been public education. We have other issues facing Durham County. We have a gang problem, we have a drug problem in our city, we have an economic disparity in our city. And I’m certain the same thing applies in Raleigh or Chapel Hill and probably all over the country where you have the old regime that really pushes the agenda for the black community.
So, the question would be, you young folk, how are you going to get your message across when you’re faced with these old established leaders who are respected, who are credible, who hold power?
MOSES: It’s almost like you need a national PR campaign these days to do anything in the community. And it’s unfortunate, but it’s like until the cool people get involved, it’s not cool to get involved. For instance, I’ve picked one issue, which is sickle cell disease. Sickle cell disease has affected predominantly the black community for years. It’s a disease that’s been around for a really long time, but nothing was really done about it until T-Boz of TLC, the popular female group, said “I have sickle cell.” I have it and four people in my family have it. They’ve cut funding for sickle cell disease every single year. What has to be done for something to be done about sickle cell disease? It’s been really hard to get the community involved, to get people to speak up, to get people who even have the disease to say we need help.
KENNEY: Well, as a leader, how do you do it?
MOSES: As a leader, I speak out. I spoke out about it all through college. I let people see me when I was getting sick, when I was having pain episodes. I let people see me and then I went back and talked to them after I got out of the hospital. And I said, this is what’s going on with me, this is what I have, this is what you can do to help. And so, I speak about it constantly and I get involved in organizations and events around this. But, I’m just one person. It’s hard to get other people on the bandwagon. Not just with that issue–with a lot of issues.
RAINEY: Let’s be honest. It is a time-consuming event. When there’s a huge issue in my neighborhood, I go door-to-door, knocking on doors, talking to people. People have a lot of mistrust even for their own because their own color has taken advantage of them, have cheated them. So it’s a lot of hard work. But what I would say to younger leadership, pick a specific topic. And you have to do door-to-door to get your message out. You have to call meetings. Your first meeting, you may have only five people there, but that’s five more than you started with.
KENNEY: So, you’re saying bump the old established leadership?
KENNEY: Go around them?
KENNEY: Do the grassroots organization?
RAINEY: Build it.
KENNEY: Is that the way to get it done?
WILLIAMS: I think me and Octavia must have walked out the same door this morning. (Laughter). The old regime, they weren’t credible when they started out. So, they started out the same way we’re starting out. Basically, people are looking at us like, “What are they talking about? They’re young, they don’t know anything.” But we do, we know a lot. And so you have to be confident in that. But there are a lot of competing issues that leads up to why we’re not doing that. You have competing issues with time. People are now focusing a lot more on their career and not on the situations around them. They become comfortable with what they have. They see what other people have, and they see how they got to that point. And it’s been by not taking a stand. It’s been by allowing things to happen, allowing policies to pass through.
KENNEY: Is there jealousy?
KENNEY: Among leadership?
KENNEY: Turfism, jealousy of the spotlight? People wanting credit?
MOSES: Yeah, I think a lot of that comes from black people thinking that there can only be one leader at one time. And if that one leader does something that messes up, he’s messed it up for the whole race. There’s a danger in putting your faith in one leader at one time. There’s no reason why we should have just one leader.
RAINEY: I’m going to give you a prime example of what happened in Durham I felt was just outstanding for one person, which was Reverend Paul Scott when he started working with the Phat Boy issue and I was working on the alcohol issue in Raleigh. And we met and what Paul was doing in Durham all by himself was dealing with the issue of Phat Boy malt liquor. He called me and said, “I’m going to challenge the alcohol industry on Fat Boy.” Do you know Phat Boy was taken off the market? But it’s just one person who stood out there on his own and went up against the grain. We tackled a major alcohol company and called them on the carpet.
KENNEY: What were you hearing from the older established leadership?
RAINEY: It was too risky.
KENNEY: Too risky?
RAINEY: Black folk drink “40s.”
KENNEY: Not our issue?
RAINEY: Not our issue.
KENNEY: Let’s talk about some other issues that are out there. What do we need to focus on that’s not being addressed?
RAINEY: When you look at more of your depressed areas across the state, especially for African Americans, we need to be looking at housing and urban development and saying, “What in the world are you doing? You guys change policies every day. Where is our input at?” Because that has an impact on us and whether or not we as African Americans are going to have housing in the future.
KENNEY: OK, what else?
RAINEY: Alcohol and drugs. Devastating.
KENNEY: Let’s spend a little time on that because that’s one of my pet peeves. Durham County has no beds for drug treatment. The same in Raleigh. Treatment is being cut, and yet we know that there is correlation between substance abuse and crime, and crime and economic standing.
JENNINGS: I think it’s one of those issues where you need a little bit more in order to impact the entire situation. That’s going to come from really getting out and getting the message to the public in terms of how intensely stupid these laws are. There’s many other countries where they don’t criminalize these things that are at the core of health issues.
KENNEY: Are you talking about legalizing drugs?
JENNINGS: No. I’m talking about decriminalization. Taking a look at what’s going on in terms of what we do with these people. To me, it’s criminal to say that we’re going to put a disproportionate segment of the society in jail for something and we’re going to spend that way, but we’re not going to spend the money up front to help prevent these things from occurring in the first place.
KENNEY: Why isn’t the black leadership talking about this stuff?
JENNINGS: Because it’s an embarrassment.
RAINEY: It’s an embarrassment. And you know, I don’t think that we ever had a war on drugs.
KENNEY: We had a war on black people.
RAINEY: That’s all, it was just a war on black people. Somebody’s making big money off the effects of drugs but nobody’s out here really trying to help. Foster care across the state of North Carolina for African Americans have risen to the top. I mean, to the top. And 80 percent of that is from what? Drug abuse by young mothers.
Second thing, older neighborhoods are being destroyed. Going through, tearing them down. That’s why Hope Six is so popular, because it’s a way of going through and cleaning out the black neighborhood.
BROWN: I’m still in education as a college student and North Carolina, with our 16 [public university] institutions in our state, I think that education is still a key thread. We’re losing funding, especially for HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities]. We’re using more money per prisoner than we are per student in our public institutions. I don’t know where it is on somebody’s desk, but I think it’s a little bit more important than some of the other issues that are being addressed now.
WILLIAMS: I think the biggest issue is not education at an institution, but an education of the issues that are really impacting our communities. Again, taking it back to Charlotte, my husband worked in a really depressed community, and one day he says he had to go to work on a Saturday. It was the county commissioners, the city council, and some of the people from the Department of Health, they’re going around to these houses in this depressed community, knocking on doors, asking people, “What would you like for us to fix about your house?” I told him, I said, “Don’t go to work. What they’re doing is they’re going to kick those people out. They trying to build a new stadium downtown. So, what you’re doing is you’re helping them figure out how to get rid of these people.” So I think our job needs to be to educate these people, to let them know what’s going on. How did these policies get past us? Why are we as a community so reactionary and not proactive?
CAMP: Now, I’m going to pose another problem for you which I have not seen the black community respond to. There’s an achievement gap between black youngsters and white youngsters. A 30 percent achievement gap. Now, as long as I can remember that gap has been there. What is the black leadership doing to close that gap? I know we’ve had a closing the gap commission and they came up with 10 or so recommendations. Most of them point to resources. Different resources. An extraordinary amount of resources. Do you think that’s going to happen? Do you think the white power structure is going to allocate extraordinary resources to cause this gap to go away?
KENNEY: Instead of attacking the establishment, instead of attacking the school boards, instead of attacking the Senate and the House to raise the amount of resources, wouldn’t strong black leadership say, Let’s take care of that ourselves?
WILLIAMS: Yes, yes! Jesus, yes!
KENNEY: What happened to the leadership that says, “These are our kids?”
CAMP: I think that’d be appropriate. And I think we have to do that. Sororities, fraternities, churches–
KENNEY: Not just the churches. (Laughter)
CAMP: All of us in the community.
KENNEY: But the old vision would be to attack the establishment. Isn’t that the old approach?
CAMP: And it worked.
KENNEY: Did it really work?
CAMP: It didn’t work for this, but it got you voting rights, it got you integration, it got you busing, which you wanted.
KENNEY: But we’re talking about the achievement gap.
CAMP: I’m just saying, that kind of leadership did play a significant role in the past. And I also mentioned earlier that we’re at a different place and we got to do something different, more creative.
KENNEY: But isn’t there a segment of the population that would argue that the problem with the black community is that integration hurt us?
CAMP: Yeah, I might even argue that myself. But we go back to resources. When things were separate but equal, you never had equal resources. And integration was just a way to try to get us the opportunity to get greater resources. But even so, that’s gone awry because the leadership hasn’t been there to keep the pressure on.
KENNEY: To me, it’s a combination of two things: the achievement gap problem and the suspensions, which is a way the schools use to try to help make it look like they’re doing a better job.
RAINEY: And they’re not. And you’re right. There was a huge discussion one time whether or not to take the drop-out rate to 18. Do you know the opposition that came from that? Now, if we’re all about our children, why is there so much opposition to taking the rate up to 18 to drop out of school?
KENNEY: Talk to me.
MOSES: I think that’s the point. I don’t think we’re all about our children anymore. And I think that in terms of the leadership from back then, the leadership was in our own families. We had our extended families. We had the matriarch or the patriarch who made an effort to be sure that everybody was OK, to be sure that you were getting your education. And then you had your next door neighbors who made sure that whatever was supposed to be getting done was getting done.
These days you don’t have that same leadership of family. You have parents who drop their kids off at school who don’t care whether or not they’re getting a good education or not.
KENNEY: So, the issue of the parents today is do what they need to do to get the kids out of the house?
MOSES: Yeah, everything’s convenience now.
BEST: I just can’t agree on that because when we send our children out to kindergarten, we send them out with great expectations. I think the teachers and the board of education should be held accountable. You’re sending your children to a school and you expect them to learn. I sent my grandson out–that kid almost had a nervous breakdown by the time he was in third grade from those teachers. My child was suspended because he pours some soda on the table in the lunchroom, and they told him he was destroying school property. And because he spoke about it, they wanted to give him two more days in-school suspension. It’s always something. I think that by the time that our children get into middle school, that spirit is broken. Because they have had to fight from kindergarten all the way up, and they sit up in class and don’t want to do anything.
BROWN: As a future teacher–(laughter)–I’ve seen a lot and I think that, in agreement with what you say, parents, the kids have to come to us halfway. We are there to educate them the book sense and, you know, some things come with the common sense. We’re going to teach something that they may not get from home, but there are certain things that need to come from home first.
BEST: Like you were talking about integration. It did not help us, because when we went to school we had all black teachers. They were constantly inspiring us, motivating us, telling us, “You can be somebody. You don’t have to work in the white man’s kitchen. You don’t have to do that.” Our kids don’t get that inspiration that we received when we were coming up.
KENNEY: OK, so listen. What’s the leadership say? Do we say pass a lottery and give more money to the teachers?
JENNINGS: Leadership needs to walk that path right down the middle on this one. We need to acknowledge hey, we got a lot of stuff that’s broke in our community. But the bottom line is we got to fix it. And if we don’t get another dollar from anybody, we need to go and fix it and we need to figure out how to do that ourselves. The same time, we need to be holding these people accountable because we get taxed out of our paychecks and it’s going to be spent on something. I’d much rather be spending that $3,000 to educate than $30,000 to incarcerate.
We’re talking the achievement gap–one of the major factors that drives student performance is teacher expectation.
There are situation where yes, kids are coming in with some tremendous baggage and that’s really prohibiting the teacher. But we also have another thing that’s becoming an ingrained culture within the schools that says, “Hey, this little black kid, this is what they going to do so I’m going to look at this child through that lens and anything that they do is going to be interpreted through that.” So the mere spilling of a soda can be interpreted as a threat.
CAMP: The resolution of these problems start at the university, and the preparation of teachers. If you are the principal of a school and you have 700 in your school, every day you have 700 different kinds of problems coming to your door. The universities that train teachers are not equipped and are not developing the kinds of teachers that can address these problems every day. Some university teacher education programs are still teaching for people like us, and that ain’t working.
RAINEY: School as it is now with the busing issue is really an economic hardship. Now I live near St. Augustine’s College, but the kids in my neighborhood, their base school is way past Crabtree Valley, like going toward Durham. So, when you talk about parents who work these jobs at Hardee’s, Bojangles–they don’t have that kind of flexibility. How do you expect me to actually participate? How do you expect my child to have ownership of that school?
BROWN: Well, I was bused 30 minutes away from my home, and it was the best experience and it has made me who I am today.
And I would not have changed that. I think that that concept is a good concept, but I think we’ve gone away from what the fundamental purpose of what it was created for. Second, the joke about getting a lottery for education, it may have been funny, but it’s something that we need. It may not be the lottery, but more money for education and more money for the teachers. Technology and education are the two fields of study that never end because there’s new stuff all the time. There has to be some kind of more money for me as a teacher so that I continue to make your child succeed.
RAINEY: How you going to get the lottery? They just threw closing the achievement gap in there so that they could say to black folk, “Well, if you support this, you going to get some of this money.” I don’t support the lottery because it’s gambling. You can’t sit and tell children, “Don’t give in to peer pressure,” when you are doing the same thing.
KENNEY: So, we’ve identified the problems in our schools as a lack of resources. We’re saying that the answer is not a lottery. What are we going to do to fix it?
WILLIAMS: Get up and do it. As leadership, you need to stand up and say, “OK, this school that my child’s going to, they don’t have adequate books.” Y’all sit around and y’all will give to philanthropic reasons. I’m not saying they’re not good causes, but your child that’s living in your house is a better cause. olufunke’s right–we have failed our kids. We don’t think about our kids. We’re not about our kids. We’re about looking good. We’re riding around on escalators and our children are failing, third grade, can’t pass end of grade tests.
KENNEY: How many are familiar with the Hillside High School issue in Durham? How should new leadership handle that?
BB/OR: She got to go.
KENNEY: [School Superintendent] Denlinger needs to go?
BB/RAINEY: She got to go.
WILLIAMS: I think our response is, where were we when it was happening? Where were we that we allowed it to get to this point? The decision has been made. I say now accept [Eunice O’Neal] Sanders is the principal and move on. Be that support system for her.
CAMP: Make her succeed.
WILLIAMS: Exactly. Step up and say, “We’re going to provide you with support. What do you need to succeed?” If you saw what happened the past six years, look at the pattern. How did they set these other people up? And you make sure they don’t do her the same way.
KENNEY: Let’s bring this to a conclusion with one final question, and everyone can answer if you want. We’ve identified a problem with leadership, we’ve talked about a lack of support. We even talked a little about lack of passion. What’s the next step? How do we identify new leadership? How do we encourage and nurture that leadership?
CAMP: Leadership begins to be developed as early as a kid can talk and walk. Kids, our kids as well as other kids, have got to be proficient in three things. Reading, writing, and mathematics. I don’t care how you cut it, you’re going to have to be proficient in those things.
KENNEY: I’m going to add one to that. You got to learn to speak Spanish.
MOSES: I think that the other thing that kids need to be proficient in is other cultures.
The world is becoming so global right now. It’s not black and white. It hasn’t been black and white for a very long time.
What happens is a lot of these kids don’t even get outside their community, their neighborhoods. What it does for you to be exposed to these other cultures is, it allows you to grow and expand and to seize the potential that you can have and can be.
WILLIAMS: You asked about where do we go from here. I challenge every young person at this table to move forward, pick an issue and move forward in the progressive leadership roles that we’ve talked about and to support each other in that. Let’s get up and leave here and say, “This is what I’m about. I need your support. Do you know anybody that can help?” And don’t wait for somebody else to take that role.
CAMP: What about the oldest person around the table? (Laughter).
WILLIAMS: Y’all can come too.
BROWN: You said identify, support and nurture. Identify can start with recruitment in high schools and colleges. People can say, “Well, this person has got heart and got drive.” ‘Cause that’s what they did with me. They saw that I came into college and I wanted to do something. They took me and put me where I needed to be, and now I can do what I want to do. I can get things done on campus.
KENNEY: It almost sounds to me like the mentor is going to be people your own age. Am I wrong?
BEST: Octavia is my mentor.(Laughter).
KENNEY: Anyone else?
JENNINGS: Get involved. Get involved in the lives of children. Don’t wait for anybody else to get them. Don’t wait for peer pressure to get them, don’t wait for the teachers, the school system, the media to get them. You get to them, wherever they are. If it’s coaching youth sports or if it’s just playing with the kids that’s in your community or just being a visible presence where this little 6 or 7-year-old knows that hey, any time I see this person they’re going to say, “How you doing?”
MOSES: I want to tag onto that. I think it’s also very important to stay involved in the lives of the elders in our community. I think that’s a huge mistake that there’s such a gap between elders and young people now. Because I think they have so much to pass on and so much to offer, and I think that the fact they’re just kind of thrown away now, and kids don’t have any respect for authority–the lack of respect for authority begins with the lack of respect for your elders.
CAMP: One more thing. Get involved in your commun ity and civic affairs. Chair committees, like Octavia and I do back in Southeast Raleigh. And take on as many as you can. I chair about four, and it takes a heck of a lot of time. But it is important because I feel that there has to be a different voice in the mix.
KENNEY: It sounds like being a young, black progressive-minded leader can be very draining. It can be very lonely. In many ways, what we need is each other. And hopefully, a place will be found where we can have those conversations and support each other.